Recent reforms of the Lord Chancellor

The constitutional position of the Lord Chancellor as simultaneously a Member of the legislature, the executive and the head of the judiciary became the subject of debate and proposed reform in recent decades.  The ancient office began to be viewed as untenable for the way it contradicted the ideal of having a separation of powers at the heart of government.

In 2003, the Prime Minister announced that the post of Lord Chancellor was to be abolished in its entirety and a new Department for Constitutional Affairs would replace the Lord Chancellor’s Department.

In the event, the office was not abolished entirely but many of its functions were distributed to other offices and reformed. The provisions for these changes were made in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

The title of ‘Lord Chancellor’ was retained and is now coterminous with the Secretary of State for Justice. The incumbent is appointed by the Prime Minister to Cabinet and – since the reforms took effect in 2005 – can be a Member of either House.

The job of presiding over the House’s proceedings transferred from the Lord Chancellor to a newly-created role: the Lord Speaker.  The Act also provided for the creation of the Supreme Court, which took over the House of Lords’ judicial functions in 2009.  A Judicial Appointments Commission was created and took over the Lord Chancellor’s power to appoint senior judges for English and Welsh courts.

Glossary link

Related information

Find out more about the role of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chancellor's Breakfast

Discover the history of the House of Lords