Chris Harper comments on the Supreme Court:-
When the new UK Supreme Court opens today it will herald the dawning of a new chapter in legal history. The House of Lords has served as the final court of appeal in one form or another since the fourteenth century, but no longer. Not since the declaration of the House of Commons in 1649 that “the House of Peers is useless and dangerous and ought to be abolished” has there been an outright cessation in the judicial role of the House of Lords. The constitutional significance of the change may well take time to emerge and it will be interesting to see what unforeseen issues will arise. It is worth bearing in mind that the decisions made by the Justices of the Supreme Court will not just impact upon the parties to the case but will make new laws which will shape our society.
Beyond the constitutional significance there will be a large number of practical and superficial changes to the way the most powerful judicial institution in the UK will hear cases.
The Supreme Court will move the former Law Lords to the Middlesex Guildhall on Parliament Square which, following a £56m renovation, is now fully furnished to meet the needs of a modern court. The Middlesex Guildhall is now a mixture of pseudo-medieval architecture and contemporary fittings. All three of the court rooms are IT and Wi-Fi enabled so it will be possible to present evidence in electronic form. In keeping with their progressive approach, it is the intention of the Justices not to wear robes when sitting in the Supreme Court.
Arguably the most significant change the Supreme Court will bring is the increase in public access to the court. As well as members of the public being able to observe proceedings in the courts and via television screens in the exhibition area, broadcasters will have access to the footage recorded in court proceedings and will be able to air them to the public. The corollary of the increase in public access is that security will also be enhanced, with practitioners advised to contact the court a week in advance of their appearance, to arrange security measures.
There is a new brand identity to reflect the jurisdiction of the court: a rose, the leaves of a leek, a thistle and a flax represent England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. The design is repeated around the courts and even incorporated into the carpets which are designed by Sir Peter Blake (most famous for his artwork on the cover of The Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band).
Chris Harper is a Partner and heads the Dispute Resolution Team in Exeter. He is described in last month’s Legal 500 2010 independent directory as “unfailingly knowledgeable, competent and efficient”. His team is described as “exceptional”.