Michael Ryle Memorial Lecture by the Lord Chief Justice: The judiciary within the state – The relationship between the branches of the state


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  1. It is a privilege to have been asked by the Study of Parliament Group to give this year’s Michael Ryle Memorial lecture, and to follow the practice of delivering it in the Palace of Westminster.
  2. Michael Ryle was one of the two founders of the Study of Parliament Group which had its aim of bringing a particular focus to the study of the contemporary working of Parliament. When asked earlier in the year to give this lecture, I thought it appropriate to look at the contemporary position of the judiciary of England and Wales within the State and its working relations with the other branches of the State. I hope that Michael Ryle would have thought the contemporary working of another part of our constitution to be a good subject for similar study.
  3. As the subject was too large to cover in one lecture, I agreed with the trustees of the Lionel Cohen lecture which is given at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Dean of its Law School and with your President that I would divide the subject. Last month at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I explained why it was apposite to address this large subject; I concentrated on the development by the judiciary of its own coherence and its governance structure which was appropriate to its contemporary position as a clearly separate branch of the State with its own functions and responsibilities. I explained how coherence and governance were essential for the protection of the judiciary’s individual and institutional independence when performing its role in upholding the rule of law; and how its developing governance structure enables the judiciary better to discharge for the benefit of the public its other functions and responsibilities such as the timely and efficient delivery of justice and its activism in reform.
  4. In today’s lecture, I want to consider the way in which the working relationship between the judiciary and the other branches of the State should operate, as for large part it does, in our contemporary democracy.  As I explained in the earlier lecture, one of the reasons for doing so is that we have about 10 years’ experience of the effect of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (the 2005 Act).  Over that 10 year period the judiciary has not only had to develop its own governance structure but also develop a different relationship with the other branches of the State.
  5. I will assume that the concept of the independence of the judiciary needs no further explanation from me; it is a well traversed subject. However the working relationship between the judicial branch of the State and the other branches is not as developed a subject.  It suffers from the same lack of study, with some exceptions,as the subject I addressed in the earlier lecture: Judicial Governance.
  6. I intend to look at the subject under six headings:

(1) The necessary understanding of the position of the judiciary;
(2) The interdependence of branches of the State;
(3) The judiciary and Parliament;
(4) The judiciary and the Executive;
(5) The judiciary and the media; and
(6) The constitutional role of the Lord Chancellor.

I come to the position of the Lord Chancellor last. The other relationships make clear why the special position of the Lord Chancellor and the need for the holder of that office to discharge properly the responsibilities of that office are an essential part of the overall operation of our constitution.