Monday, 9 July 2007

The New Lord Chancellor

Jack Straw, formerly the Leader of the House of Commons, is now the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. Previously the Lord Chancellor had to be a member (if he wasn't already a member when appointed, he was immediately given a peerage) of the House of Lords. Until the new post of Lord Speaker was created the Lord Chancellor originally the presiding officer of the House of Lords by right.

Jack Straw will continue to sit in the House of Commons. Some traditionalists are saddened by the decline in the position of the Lord Chancellor. Only a few years ago he was the speaker of the House of Lords; A Senior Cabinet Minister and took part as a judge in House of Lords judicial committee decisions (the Highest Court in the English Legal System). Now the occupier of this ancient and once powerful post sits in the Commons and the title is secondary to Secretary of State for Justice.

On July 5th Andre Mackinlay asked the Secretary of State for Justice what the purpose was of the ceremony he attended at the High Court on 4 July; what undertakings he gave; what oaths he swore; and if he will make a statement.

The reply given was "On 4 July I attended a formal ceremony of the public acclamation of my appointment to the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. At that ceremony I took the Oath of Allegiance, the Official Oath of Office as required by the Promissory Oaths Act 1868 (“the 1868 Act”) and the new Oath required by section 17 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (“the CRA 2005”) in open Court in the presence of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and the senior judiciary.

The Oaths were:

Oath of Allegiance:
"I John Whitaker Straw do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, according to law."

Official Oath:
"I John Whitaker Straw do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second in the Office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain."

The new Oath:
"I John Whitaker Straw, do swear that in the Office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain I will respect the rule of law, defend the independence of the judiciary and discharge my duty to ensure provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts for which I am responsible. So help me God."

Prior to the coming into force of the CRA 2005 the Oaths taken, were those prescribed in Part 1 of the 1868 Act. The Oath of Allegiance and Official Oath are still taken in accordance with sections 2, 3 and 5 of the 1868 Act. However the requirement that the Lord Chancellor take the Judicial Oath in the form prescribed by section 6 and the second part of the Schedule to the 1868 Act was obviated by section 17 and Schedule 17 of the CRA 2005 which prescribed a new Oath as set out earlier in this answer. The long-standing format of the ceremonial was therefore amended to take account of the legislative changes which reflect the fact that the holder of the office of Lord Chancellor is no longer head of the judiciary and safeguards the interests of the judiciary as set out in the new Oath.

Marcel Berlins is not impressed. See his comments in the Guardian at http://politics.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2121854,00.html