Constitutional reform

The Constitutional Reform Act 2005

The Lord Chancellor’s role changed dramatically on 3 April 2006, as a result of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. Lord Bingham became the first Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales, as we think of them today.

For the first time in almost 900 years, judicial independence became enshrined in law.

The key changes brought in by the Act included:

  • A duty on government ministers to uphold the independence of the judiciary, barring them from trying to influence judicial decisions through any special access to judges
  • Reform of the post of Lord Chancellor, transferring their judicial functions to the President of the Courts of England and Wales – a new title given to the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chief Justice became responsible for the training, guidance and deployment of judges and now represents the views of the judiciary of England and Wales to Parliament and ministers
  • An independent Supreme Court was established, separate from the House of Lords and with its own independent appointments system, staff, budget and building
  • An independent Judicial Appointments Commission was created with responsibility for selecting candidates to recommend for judicial appointment to the Secretary of State for Justice. The Judicial Appointments Commission ensures that merit remains the sole criterion for appointment and the appointments system is modern, open and transparent
  • An Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman was created with responsibility for investigating and making recommendations concerning complaints about the judicial appointments process, and the handling of judicial conduct complaints within the scope of the Constitutional Reform Act.

What did not change is the way in which judgments are made or given; after all, judges have been independent in the way they work for centuries.

The real differences are in the day-to-day management of the judiciary, the way judges are appointed and the way complaints are dealt with. These are now truly independent, to enhance accountability, public confidence and effectiveness.

Tribunals reform

The Tribunals Service was created on 3 April 2006, and brought together the administration of a large number of individual tribunals, resulting in a more common and consistent approach for users.

On November 3, 2008, the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act came into force.

This created a new two-tier Tribunal system: a First-tier Tribunal and an Upper Tribunal, both of which are split into Chambers. Each Chamber comprises similar jurisdictions or bring together similar types of experts to hear appeals.

These new super tribunals absorbed over 20 existing smaller tribunals as well as providing a structure to which new appeal rights could be assigned.