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Role of the Lord Chancellor

Published Thursday, March 26, 2015

History and development of the office of Lord Chancellor. This note summarises the history and development of the office of Lord Chancellor and also examines the changes that were made to the role following the enactment of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

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On 11 June 2003, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced a ministerial reshuffle and significant machinery of government changes. A new Department of Constitutional Affairs was established under Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC, replacing the Lord Chancellor’s Department. The proposed changes were also intended to abolish the historic role of the Lord Chancellor. It almost immediately became apparent that this could not be done by way of a ministerial reshuffle. Accordingly, a consultation paper was published in September 2003, which gave more detail of the legislative changes that would have been required to abolish the office.

The consultation took place at the same time as proposed reforms to the judicial appointments process and the establishment of a new Supreme Court. All these proposals were subject to significant scrutiny, both by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee and a separate Committee in the House of Lords. In the event, the role was not abolished, but it was subject to substantial change under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. Prior to the reforms, the Lord Chancellor had a hybrid role: he acted as a senior judge (and was head of the judiciary); he was responsible for judicial appointments; yet he was also a member of the Cabinet and he presided over the House of Lords. This note summarises the history and development of the office of Lord Chancellor and also examines the changes that were made to the role following the enactment of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

On 3 July 2014, the House of Lords Constitution Committee announced that it would be conducting an inquiry into the office of Lord Chancellor. The deadline for submission of written evidence is 29 August 2014.

Commons Briefing papers SN02105

Author: Alexander Horne

Topics: Constitution, House of Lords, Ministers

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