FOR a country that has no written constitution, Britain has become surprisingly concerned about constitutional matters of late. The fuss about the European Constitution has died down for the moment but could erupt again if the Irish government's efforts to get an agreement while it holds the Presidency of the EU were to succeed. Closer to home, the British Government finds itself locked in battle with the House of Lords over constitutional reforms designed to draw a clearer line between the judiciary and the government. On Monday night the Lords refused to approve a Bill that would abolish the office of Lord Chancellor and move the Law Lords from the House of Lords to a new Supreme Court. There are good arguments for these changes; for instance, it seems odd that a senior judge who has taken part in the approval of new legislation by the House of Lords should later find himself sitting in judgement on cases brought under such legislation. The role of the Lord Chancellor as the nation's senior judicial figure and a member of the Cabinet also raises doubts about conflict of interest. These are complex issues requiring very careful consideration, as those members of the Lords who defeated the Government on Monday argued. The Prime Minister is now in a difficulty about how to proceed but it is one he has brought on himself by announcing these important reforms at very short notice and without appropriate consultation last summer. He has also failed to make any progress on reform of the House of Lords which arguably should be concluded before other constitutional matters are reviewed. Yesterday a No 10 spokesman said that there would be a period of reflection before the Government decides how to proceed. Better late than never.
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