The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 made provision for the creation of a new Supreme Court for the United Kingdom.
There had, in recent years, been mounting calls for the creation of a new free-standing Supreme Court separating the highest appeal court from the second house of Parliament, and removing the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary from the legislature. On 12 June 2003 the Government announced its intention to do so.
Before the Supreme Court was created, the 12 most senior judges – the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, or Law Lords as they were often called – sat in the House of Lords.
The House of Lords was the highest court in the land – the supreme court of appeal. It acted as the final court on points of law for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases. Its decisions bound all courts below.
As members of the House of Lords, the judges not only heard cases, but were also able to become involved in debating and the subsequent enactment of Government legislation (although, in practice, they rarely did so).
The creation of a new Supreme Court means that the most senior judges are now entirely separate from the Parliamentary process.
It is important to be aware that the new Supreme Court is a United Kingdom body, legally separate from the England and Wales courts as it is also the Supreme Court of both Scotland and Northern Ireland. As such, it falls outside of the remit of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in his role as head of the judiciary of England and Wales.
The new Supreme Court opened for business in October 2009, at the start of the legal year.