A Home of their Own

The relocation of the law lords to their new Supreme Court, at the Middlesex Guildhall, is a good move

It’s a move that would make Channel 4’s property experts Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp proud. Next October, the 12 most senior judges in the country – the law lords – will leave their cramped quarters in the Palace of Westminster, to become the first justices of the UK’s new Supreme Court. Unlike some of Phil and Kirstie’s projects, though, their lordships’ £60m relocation to the old Middlesex Guildhall is a wise one.

Never mind the resolution of some thorny constitutional issues – the creation of a Supreme Court finally puts daylight between the legislature and the judiciary – nor the law lords’ much-needed PR boost. (Few people would recognise their lordships in the street, and the media isn’t much better.) No, what the law lords really need is a bigger home, a place of their own.

When I went to see them in action, few people in the Palace of Westminster seemed to know quite where they were. Was the highest court in the country really just a room at the end of a long passageway notable for its dim lighting and fraying carpets? The law lords have heard cases in the tiny Appellate Committee Room One since the Second World War, when a bomb damaged the roof of the House of Commons. With fewer interruptions, they chose to stay there when things returned to normal in 1951, and have been there ever since.

The US Supreme Court is a magnificent building in Washington, its 44 steps ascending towards eight massive columns. By contrast, the law lords – usually five of them – hear cases in a room more like the study of a disshevelled don than a courtroom, boasting velvet wallpaper, shelves of books and huge stacks of paper.

There are only 10 rooms in the Palace of Westminster for 12 law lords, and they share four research assistants and four secretaries. By comparison, the nine justices of the US Supreme Court each employ a couple of law clerks every term.

But now, like a family that has outgrown its first home, the law lords are getting new digs. Property gurus bang on about “location, location, location”, and the Middlesex Guildhall’s location near Parliament and Westminster Abbey is ideal.

The UK Supreme Court will be modern, spacious and worthy of its name. To persuade the public to come and see what the law lords do – and why they matter – the court will have its own website, café and exhibition space. Which is something you suspect even Phil and Kirstie would like.

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