Anyone still at home at the House of Lords?

I thought they’d recently voted themselves out of existence?

An article in today’s Seattle Times, about the conjoined twins whose parents want to let them die rather than be separated, says the parents have appealed to the House of Lords after a three-judge panel found unanimously that the girls should be separated despite the inevitable death of one of them.

It was just a major[sup]1[/sup] downsizing. They got rid of most of the hereditary peers, but there’s still some life peers to carry on.

[sup]1[/sup] Not a pun since John Major had nothing to do with it. It was all Tony Blair’s doing.

Yes, a bit of downsizing, but don’t worry, some more will die off, eventually. Anyway, if any of them hang out at MI6 H.Q., …dear me, who can tell what might happen?

Besides, this would refer to the House of Lords as Court of Final appeal which is a different thing altogether

Yes, but it is still a happy idea. No?

There are a number of professional experts in the Upper house such as Bishops, Legal experts and the like.There are other political consultants such as ex-party leaders and some who have been selected for their contribution to society or particular knowledge.

These people work full-time on legislation and are known as working Lords as opposed to the hereditory peers whose sole qualification for membership was to pick the right parents.

Its the Hereditories who have been dismissed, one of the main objections to them was that they had the right to turn up and delay legislation by voting against it at the instructions of the Conservatives(and only them) with whom they are closely associated.This is not a democratic way to do things.

There is a report due out in the coming months about how the second chamber should be made up.

As has already been mentioned the term “House of Lords” can mean either the chamber or the UK version of your Supreme Court (or our High Court). What I was amazed to learn during coverage of the Pinochet extradition case was that the Court’s judgements are read in the chamber.

The law lords who form the highest court of appeal within the United Kingdom act as a committee of the House of Lords and exercise the judicial functions which were once performed by the whole House. They are appointed from the ranks of the professional judiciary. They are therefore little different from any other court of appeal. It is assumed that the parents of the conjoined twins will now appeal to them.

The House of Lords survives, but in a much altered form. The composition and role of the law lords was unchanged by the recent reform.

The House of Lords was reformed by the House of Lords Act 1999.

Some hereditary peers (92 in total) still remain in the House of Lords as a result of a political compromise which was necessary to get the Act through the House (see s. 2 of the Act).

The following is only a view – if anyone has more info, please post as I’d also like to have a greater understanding.

I can only join with the general sense of confusion about what is happening with the UK ‘second chamber’. Firstly though, the Law Lords are a component body of the House of Lords with a specific responsibility as the final Court of Appeal for the UK, dependent territories and some Commonwealth countries. This means, for example, that although some countries have themselves the death penalty (Jamaica, I believe, is an example) and the UK does not, the Law Lords occasionally hear final appeals on whether a sentence of death should be carried out or commuted.

As already said by APB, the Law Lords are promoted to the House of Lords through the judicial system and as well as having their specific legal responsibilities also vote on general legislation. They remain unaffected by the recent reforms.

With regard the wider House of Lords in its democratic role as the second chamber of Parliament, there is fundamental reform. The current and much reduced number of Hereditary Peers is indeed a compromise – and also an interim measure.

The compromise was agreed for politically expedient reasons although many believe with good reason. Some are of the view that the ‘Hereditaries’ bring a wealth of ability, knowledge and commitment to the Committee stage of legislative proposals - analysing draft legislation and considering implications, potential loop holes, etc. and to lose all of that in one swoop would be to undermine the quality of the legislative process.

The other main reason for the compromise was because no one quite knows what comes next. The Government are committed to making the House of Lords (or its replacement) a democratically elected second chamber but the shape and size of that body has not yet been determined.

Most importantly, the power of the Chamber will need to be put in legislative form and as much of the UK’s parliamentary system has evolved by way of precedent and accepted practice over the centuries (rather than via a written constitution), having this kind of power quite this well defined will be a new and dramatic constitutional development. Negotiations are ‘in hand’.

Of course, this huge and really very fundamental reform is but one aspect of a wider context. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all gained elected chambers in the past 18 months, although each has differing degrees of independence from Parliament.

Actually, they’re not. Many people assumed (quite reasonably) that the Labour Party’s commitment to “reform” the House of Lords was a commitment to democratise it, but what the Government appears to favour is a largely appointed upper house. In other words, pretty much what we have now.

The first stage of Lords reform, abolishing the hereditaries, was a priority for the Government when it came to power. Historically, the Lords have created all kinds of trouble for non-Conservative governments because of the natural Tory inclinations of the hereditaries. That was why the Parliament Acts were passed — in the first instance because the Lords had rejected the Liberal Government’s budget in 1909. For an incoming Labour Government, especially the first one for 18 years, further constraining the power of hereditary peers must have been a high priority, if only as a means of getting the rest of its legislative programme through Parliament.

I think that must have been about as far as their reasoning went in the first instance and I certainly don’t think they embarked on the project of Lords reform with a clear idea of the kind of “end product” they wanted to see. One of the things which has allowed the Commons and Lords to coexist so easily has been the natural tendency of the Lords to recognise that they are unelected and so to exercise a degree of self-restraint when challenging government policy, especially where that policy reflects a manifesto commitment and therefore (arguably) something for which the electorate has voted directly. Clearly an elected chamber would not feel this kind of self-restraint, and in the long run it could prove to be more of a pain in the arse for the government (of whichever party) than the old House of Lords ever did.

My prediction is that we will end up with an unsatisfactory compromise: a few elected members, perhaps; maybe some members elected indirectly by local authorities or the new regional assemblies. But I can’t see the Government accepting a totally elected House — the power of patronage offered by life peerages is too important for any Prime Minister to reject, and the Government must be more than a little nervous about creating an elected body to rival the Commons.

I believe that this is going to be the subject of a Conference debate later in the week. No doubt we shall find out more then.

London_Calling - It is not the law lords in the House of Lords who act as a court of appeal for certain Commonwealth countries. What you are thinking of is the judicial committee of the Privy Council, although there is some overlap in membership between the two bodies. As you say, this does mean that the Privy Council sometimes hears capital cases.

Exactly how and when the next stage of Lords’ reform will proceed are still uncertain. The future of the law lords will be very much a side issue within that debate, although one possible option would be their removal from the Lords to create a separate final court of appeal. That would remove any confusion to the layman currently created by talk of appeals to the House of Lords.

As I understood it the Law Lords act only as a supreme court of appeal to such as Jamaica and only look at the legality of convictions and the legality of the proposed sentence against that charge.
In other words they don’t rule on things like capital punishment itself as it is considered to be interfering with sovereignty of other nations.
If a person is convicted of a capital offence and the law lords uphold that conviction then they could concievably be executed but, to my knowledge, every such conviction has been commuted to life imprisonment.

Unless I’m wrong …

The judicial committee of the Privy Council can only overturn each particular sentence, not the principle of capital punishment. This was equally true of all English courts before capital punishment was abolished within the U.K. At least one of the countries which uses it as its court of appeal (I forget which) has a time limit on the period in which capital sentences can be carried out, so the appeals proceedure is usually used to spin out cases beyond that date. Most of the countries involved are very small, so the number of cases refered is not great. The use of commutations to life sentences varies between them, but executions are extremely rare.

The Privy Council has retained this role because the countries concerned prefer it that way. Most of them feel themselves to be too small to maintain full-scale courts of appeal of their own.

Singing (from memory):

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,
As every child can tell;
The House of Peers, throughout the war,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well.

Oohhaaaaa !, down an octave there, CK – sounds like a Minister’s Filipino houseboy without the KY.

OK, exactly what is it that is proposed for the House of Lords ?

This from the Labour Party Manifesto1997:
“This will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative.”

I note, as you will, the word “more”

Moving along…
This document (extracted passage cited) was then presented to Parliament by Tony Blair in December 1998 ( )
The manifesto said that options for longer-term reform would be considered by a Joint Committee of both Houses. The Government has decided to build on this with a Royal Commission. The Joint Committee will then be asked to examine in more detail the Parliamentary aspects of any proposed reform. “

The ball bounces…… into Lord Wakeham’s hands. In his Report (example of commentary:,2763,194433,00.html ) Wakeham came up with over 120 possible reforms. Amongst the evidence was this Official Government representation to the Royal Commission:
“Mr Blair’s hostility to an elected second chamber which might challenge his own power and the primacy of the Commons was reflected in Labour’s evidence to the committee. It proposed an appointed upper house, a formula dismissed by the Wakeham panel as “far-fetched for the 21st century.”

Onwards goes our ball to the Joint Committee before arriving back with Blair and this weeks Labour Party Conference.

However, somewhere along the line, it seems much of the Labour Party membership has come to believe full democratization is on the agenda. This from last week (,2763,371517,00.html ) :
“Tony Blair is facing defeat at next week’s Labour conference after a poll found that party members are overwhelmingly opposed to his decision to reject a fully elected House of Lords.”

I have to agree with ** TomH** that full democratization has probably never been on Blair’s agenda nor has it been stated as a clear aim of the Labour Party. However, the lack of specifics in official Labour Party policy has created a belief that such reform is an achievable aim. It is before the conference this week - one can only anticipate a lively debate. And of course, as with the London Mayoral election candidature, Blair does not always get his way. Interesting times.

(For anyone interested, Charter 88 have a wonderfully comprehensive resource on the subject at: )

With regard the Privy Council you’re absolutely right APB. Those sitting on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council need not be Law Lords –
“The members of the Committee are the Lord Chancellor and former Lord Chancellors, and other Privy Counsellors holding or having held high judicial office who have not attained the age of 75 years. The latter include past and present Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and Judges of the Court of Appeal in England and Wales, the Court of Session in Scotland and the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland. Privy Counsellors who are holders or former holders of high judicial office in certain Commonwealth countries are also eligible to serve on the Committee.”

For whom the Privy Council is the ultimate Court of Appeal see:

  • these days the list is somewhat diminished :slight_smile:

I would offer a caveat to the description of the Privy Council’s powers: the Council may in some cases have the power of judicial review (such as the power to consider the constitutionality of capital punishment law), depending on the constitution of the Commonwealth country or Crown dependency from which the appeal was lodged. The Privy Council in some cases has a broader jurisdiction than the House of Lords would have in British cases.

If, under the Constitution of that country/dependency, the courts are given the power of judicial review under a *Charter of Rights,*or federalism, or some other constitutional restriction on the government, then the Privy Council on appeal from the courts of that country may well have the power to strike down a statute.

For example, prior to 1949, the Privy Council was the final court of appeal for Canada. On Canadian appeals, it had the same power of judicial review as the Canadian courts. Since the Canadian courts could review the validity of federal and provincial statutes under the British North America Act, 1867(now the *Constitution Act, 1867),*the Privy Council sitting on appeal from the Canadian courts could also exercise that power.

There are numerous cases where the Privy Council struck down federal and provincial statutes because they exceeded the authority of the respective governments. (Note: none of those cases involved the capital punishment example, since the Charterwas not in force during the time that the Privy Council was Canada’s final court.)

The House of Lords, operating under the doctrine of supremacy of Parliament, could not review the validity of a British statute, but the same judges, sitting in the Privy Council on appeal from Commonwealth courts, can in some cases do so.