The Law Lords’ Final Judgments

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Yesterday the House of Lords delivered its last judgments as the final court of appeal in England and Wales. For many, many, many years (as with all thing English), the House of Lords had a dual function, sitting as both a part of the legislature and the judiciary. From 1 October this year, the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be sitting on Parliament Square, comprised of twelve current Lords of Appeal in the Ordinary.

Among the various domestic high courts, the Law Lords were probably without peer in their application of international law, particularly human rights law. It is thus fitting that they went out with a bang, rather than a whimper. Among their final judgments is Purdy v. DPP, where their Lordships unanimously held that the Director of Public Prosecutions (who as in other common law system has a discretion, rather than an ex officio duty to prosecute), had to publish a clear statement of policy as to when and under what circumstances he would prosecute persons assisting their terminally ill loved ones in going to a clinic in Switzerland to obtain euthanasia. Their Lordships based their decision on the legal predictability requirement under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In parting, one could only say that if some of the other European states (you know who they are) had a judicial system that was even only half as effective as is the English judiciary, and the House of Lords in particular, in the protection of individual rights under the Human Rights Act (and make no mistake about it, the HRA was truly a moment of fundamental constitutional change in the UK, requiring an enormous amount of adjustment and good will from the judiciary), then the case load of the Strasbourg Court would not be as unmanageable, nor would there be all the Protocol 14s, 14bis and other restrictions on the right of individual petition, which are ultimately only stop-gap measures that lead to nowhere. Nor would, for that matter, the Court itself be the bloated, bureaucratic, basically almost entirely Registry-run institution that it is today. (As the readers might have guessed, I have a truly Kafkian horror story or two to tell in regard of a client that I’ve represented, but I’ll refrain from doing so to avoid the stereotype of a complaining loser).

Anyway, as the saying goes, nothing lasts forever…

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