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Britain's New Supreme Court Opens, Separating Judiciary From Legislature

Britain's New Supreme Court Opens, Separating Judiciary From Legislature

Britain's New Supreme Court Opens, Separating Judiciary From Legislature

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A new high court has begun proceedings in Britain, replacing the appeals court in the House of Lords. Its title, "The Supreme Court," has led some British lawyers to be concerned that it might eventually take on powers like the American Supreme Court, which can strike down laws. Its proponents say the court is a healthy separation of the judiciary from the legislature.

Eleven Supreme Court Justices were sworn in to the country's new highest court.

"I now invite your Lordship to take the oaths required of you by law."

The new court building is on London's Parliament Square, next to Westminster Abbey, and across from the Houses of Parliament where the Law Lords Court used to be.

Senior lawyer Hugh Tomlinson says the move is important.

"Many people were confused in the old days between the House of Lords as a court and the House of Lords as a legislative body and a new Supreme Court will get over that confusion. It will symbolically reinforce the independence of the judiciary, which I think is a very good thing," said Tomlinson.

The court is promising open access, televising proceedings for the first time in British history. Another improvement says Tomlinson.

"Televising proceedings is a very good idea ... for two reasons; first, it will enable people to see how seriously the cases are taken, how the argument is done, and secondly, it will lead to both the lawyers and the judges perhaps expressing themselves in a clearer and more publicly accessible way," said Tomlinson.

But not everyone thinks the invention of a Supreme Court for Britain is a wise decision. Lord Neuberger, a former law lord, warned the creation of the court was meddling with Britain's constitution and could have unforeseen consequences.

Lawyer Dan Tench says Neuberger is not the only one concerned.

"What people are particularly looking for is whether our highest court will now take a more aggressive approach against parliament and against the executive and be more intervening in decisions," Tench said.

That would be like the American Supreme Court, and Tench says the British version will not end up that way.

"I think that is very unlikely. The British judiciary in many ways is very set in its ways, and I think that the time honored customs of the British judiciary and its approach is unlikely to be Americanized," Tench said.

Its decisions will be widely watched, he says.

"The decisions from the highest court in the United Kingdom are extremely influential around the world. They obviously have some influence in the United States as the decisions of the United States Supreme Court have are influential over here," Tench said.

The court's first case involves human rights and terrorism. The case challenges the British government's right to create laws without a vote in Parliament. Six terrorism suspects have had their assets frozen, even though they have not been convicted of funding terrorism.