As Marko reported in the summer, the House of Lords (or to be more precise, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords) has been replaced as the final court of appeal for the different legal systems that form the UK by a Supreme Court. The new Supreme Court took over the functions of the Law Lords on 1 October 2009. The Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, consisting of fully qualified and professional judges appointed to the House of Lords (one of the two chambers of the British Parliament), had been the final court of appeal in the UK since 1876. Prior to that date, the House of Lords (the legislative body) had served as the final court of appeal and before 1399, both Houses of Parliament (the Lords and the Commons) heard petitions for judgments of lower courts to be reversed.
When compared with other countries, the position of the House of Lords (in its judicial capacity) was anomalous in that it failed to represent the principle of separation of powers. Though the Law Lords (or Lords of Appeal in Ordinary as they were formally designated) were professional judges, usually appointed from the lower courts, they were members of the House of Lords in its legislative capacity and could sit and vote in the legislative chamber. In practice, they rarely did so but on occasion they did. The Lord Chancellor was until 2005 head of the House of Lords in both its legislative and judicial capacities and was also a member of the cabinet! The Law Lords heard appeals in committee rooms in Parliament and judgments were delivered in the chamber of the House of Lords.
The new Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for England & Wales, for Northern Ireland and for civil cases arising from Scotland. It is composed of 12 Justices of the Supreme Court (a new term). All the existing law lords were automatically appointed to the Supreme Court though they no longer have the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords. In a move with symbolic significance, the Supreme Court has moved out of the House of Lords and occupies a separate building on the opposite side of Parliament Square in Westminster, London.
The Supreme Court held its first hearings on October 5 with appeals on cases of great significance for international law. Its first cases deal with the legality of the UK domestic orders which implement Security Council Resolution 1267 (for media reports see here; for details on the Supreme Court site, see here and here). Under that resolution UN Member States are obliged to freeze the assets of persons designated by the relevant Sanctions Committee as being ‘associated with’ Al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Supreme Court held hearings last Monday (Oct 5) on those cases which Antonios recently commented on here on EJIL:Talk! These are the cases of Hay v HM Treasury ( EWHC 1167 (Admin)) (where unusually the appeal has gone straight from the High Court to the Supreme Court) and A, K, M, Q & G v HM Treasury  EWCA Civ 1187. In both cases, persons subjected to the Al-Qaida and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 (’AQO’) which implemented SC Resolution 1267 argue that the Order impermissibly deprives them of fundamental rights (principally the right of access to a Court) without the explicit permission of Parliament. Judgment in these cases is expected next month and we will have comment on them here on EJIL:Talk!