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Curiouser and curiouser!


"Curiouser and curiouser!" Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). "Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!" (for when she looked down at her feet they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off).

The Wall Street Journal reports on the new United Kingdom Supreme Court. We think Alice has something to say about it.

The new bench is said to be patterned on America's Supreme Court. That is a bit of historical irony since the US Supreme Court established its procedures in 1792 "on those of the King's bench and Chancery courts in London".

The government has taken the highest court of the land, the Law Lords, out of the House of Lords, given them a new name and building and has claimed they are going to be "fully separate, American style, from Parliament and its legislative function".

That cannot be the reason that Tony Blair’s government created the new court, though it would be good if, to the government’s surprise, it had that effect.

As Montesquieu and US John Adams long ago observed, British courts were independent of both King and Parliament. That is one reason, the two gentlemen wrote, that the British Constitution embodied separation of powers and the little guy was (frequently) protected from the overwhelming power of the state. The Law Lords were also independent as long as they followed the law, and not politicians, which they almost always did.

The WSJ provided this overview of Britain's courts -

Magistrates’ Courts

Minor criminal cases

Crown Court

Serious criminal cases

County Courts

Civil cases


Citizens and the state

High Court

Chancery Division
Equity, tax and bankruptcy cases

Queen’s Bench Division
Contract, tort and commercial cases

Family Division
Family law

Administrative Court and the Divisional Court

Court of Appeal / Criminal Division and Civil Division

Appeals from the High Court and occasionally from lower courts and tribunals

The new Supreme Court

The final word on all cases in the United Kingdom, aside from criminal cases in Scotland

We can't help wondering at the proliferation of courts, the placing of family law with a remote High Court Family Division and the introduction of the ghastly Roman sounding tribunals. However, never mind.

What does the new United Kingdom Supreme Court have to do with Alice? In her frank way Alice would say - When the Lisbon Treaty goes into effect, European Law will govern Britain with Corpus Juris, which is based on the old Napoleonic Code. Good-bye, British law! Good-bye, juries! Good-bye, habeas corpus! Good-bye, presumption of innocence! Oh my, they'll be so far away, the Supreme Court will lose touch with its feet.

But Alice, the Supreme Court judges will look very good in their gold braid robes, handing down legal decisions from Strasbourg and Brussels.

Comments (2)

In the unseemly haste to condemn 'Europe', shall we try to remember that it was T*ny Bl*ir who tried harder than any postwar PM to Americanize Britain, and that a Supreme Court of the kind mooted comes straight out of his mid-Atlantic armoury? For many years I taught the works of Sir Philip Sidney (a poet/courtier/war hero who richly merits a post), whose sonnet-sequence 'Astrophil and Stella' had a protagonist ('Astrophil', the Star-Lover) who, I used to try to tell undergraduates 'is (not) Philip. Work it out.' Likewise, Britain is (not) part of Europe. But it is certainly not (sans brackets) part of America. Supreme Court, indeed. Had we not all we needed?


Neither Horatio Hornblower nor Richard Sharpe can save you, if you are being governed by the Dormouse.

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