Lord Chancellor

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The High Lord Chancellor of Great Britain (The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain) , briefly Lord Chancellor , one of the highest and most important dignitaries in the government of the United Kingdom . He ranks second among the Great Officers of State (and thus formally before the Prime Minister in the protocol order of precedence ) and is appointed by the British monarch on the proposal of the Prime Minister. From the 16th century he was always a member of the House of Lords ( peer ); from 2007 (with the appointment of Jack Straw ) he is a member of the House of Commons .

Robert Buckland , Lord Chancellor since July 24, 2019

The Lord Chancellor's area of ​​responsibility was very extensive and included legislative, executive and judicial functions. Concerns about these extended powers and the inadequate separation of powers led Tony Blair's government to propose the abolition of the office. The office as such was then retained due to the objection of the House of Lords, but the Constitutional Reform Act passed by parliament in 2005 transferred some of the responsibilities to other offices and institutions. Today, the Lord Chancellor no longer acts as chairman of the House of Lords , but can elect a Lord Speaker itself . Likewise, the Lord Chancellor is no longer head of justice. Of his former functions, he now only exercises those who are of an executive character. Like his predecessor, the current incumbent is also Minister of Justice - an office that was only created in 2007 - which means that he remains a member of the cabinet. In addition, he is still the keeper of the Great Seal.

A Lord Keeper of the Great Seal can also be appointed in place of the Lord Chancellor. The two offices perform exactly the same tasks. The only difference is in the method of appointment. Furthermore, the office of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal - but not that of Lord Chancellor - can also be filled by a committee of individuals called the Lords Commissioner of the Great Seal . However, only lord chancellors have been appointed since the 19th century. The aforementioned offices have become unusual.


Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor,
Hans Holbein the Younger , 1527

The office of Lord Chancellor can trace its beginnings back to the Carolingian monarchy, when it was held by the guardian of the royal seal . In England it can be traced back to the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, perhaps even earlier. Some cite Angmendus as the first Chancellor of England in 605. Other sources suggest that Saint King Edward the Confessor was the first to seal official documents instead of personally signing them. In any case, the office had been occupied continuously since the Norman conquest.

In the past the Lord Chancellor was almost always a cleric , as during the Middle Ages clergymen were among the few people in the kingdom who could read and write. The Lord Chancellor performed various tasks. He was the keeper of the Great Seal, the chief royal chaplain, and counselor in spiritual and secular affairs. This made the office one of the most important in the government. In the government he was subordinate to the justiciar, whose office had already been abolished.

As one of the King's Ministers, the Lord Chancellor was part of the Curia Regis , the royal court. Petitions were usually directed to the king and the court. In 1280 Edward I instructed his judges to examine petitions under the name of the " Court of the King's Bench" and decide for themselves. Important petitions should be submitted to the Lord Chancellor for decision. The most important decisions were then submitted to the king himself. Under the reign of Edward III. a separate tribunal for the Lord Chancellor had already developed. Within the framework of this body, called the High Court of Chancery , the Lord Chancellor decided cases on the basis of fairness or equity ( equity ) instead of strictly applying the principles of common law . The Lord Chancellor was now also called the “guardian of the royal conscience”. Church people dominated the Chancellery until 1529. In that year Cardinal Thomas Wolsey , Archbishop of York , was dismissed as Lord Chancellor because he had failed to bring about the annulment of Henry VIII's first marriage with the Pope . As a result, the English Church separated from Rome and clergy held the office only once during the brief reign of the Catholic Queen Maria I. Since 1558, the Lord Chancellors have been mostly lay people.

The institution

When the office was previously held by church people, the daily official business was carried out in their absence by a "keeper of the great seal". The guardians were also appointed when the post became vacant in the meantime. Then they filled the office until a new Lord Chancellor was appointed. When Elizabeth I became Queen, Parliament passed a law providing that the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal was entitled to "the same place, precedence, jurisdiction, enforcement of laws and other customs, goods and advantages" as the Lord Chancellor. The only difference between the two offices was the type of appointment. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by a formal royal decree (letters patent) , the Lord Keeper by the delivery of the Great Seal into his custody. It is also possible to hand over the office of Lord Chancellor to a commission, i.e. a group of people instead of a single person. The people who carry out the office are called "Lord Commissioners of the Great Seal". However, no Lord Commissioners have been appointed since 1836.

There used to be separate chancellors for Scotland and Ireland. When England and Scotland were amalgamated with the Act of Union in 1707 to form Great Britain, only a single Lord Chancellor was appointed for the entire kingdom. However, this did not happen with the unification of Great Britain and Ireland ( Act of Union 1800 ). Thus, until the independent Irish Free State was formed in 1922, there was a Lord Chancellor of Ireland. After that this office was abolished. His remaining powers were transferred to the Northern Ireland Minister. As a result, the title of Lord Chancellor remained "Lord Chancellor of Great Britain" according to the Act of Union of 1707 instead of "Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom".

Legislative functions

Charles Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham, as Lord Chancellor. Lord Chancellor wore black and gold robes as chairman of the house.

The Lord Chancellor was ex officio the Speaker (Chairman) of the British House of Lords (House of Lords) until 2006 . There was no statute that specifically gave him that power. Instead, he was a spokesman for the Right of Prescription . Even a Lord Chancellor who is a non-nobleman could preside over the House of Lords, which, of course, was unusual. However, there were certain occasions when the Lord Chancellor did not chair the session. For example, at a joint meeting of the lower and upper houses, the meeting was chaired by the chairman of the committees. When the Lord Chancellor was absent, the meeting was chaired by the monarch-appointed alternates.

Another historical example should be mentioned here. When the peers had the right to be tried for crimes or treason by other peers of the House of Lords rather than by people from the common people in juries, these courts was the Lord Regent ( Lord High Steward ) instead of Lord Chancellor before. The office of Lord High Steward has generally remained vacant since 1421. Whenever a peer in the House of Lords was to be convicted, a Lord High Steward was appointed on those occasions. In many cases the Lord Chancellor was then temporarily appointed to this office. The distinction is now meaningless, as convictions were abolished by the House of Lords in 1948.

When the Lord Chancellor presided over the debates, he sat on the woolsack (wool sack) and wore his full ceremonial regalia. The robe was black and decorated with gold embroidery. Like other judges, the Lord Chancellor wore a ceremonial wig. His powers as chairman did not go as far as those of his counterpart in the lower house. He could not give the floor if two members rose at the same time, nor could he apply the rules of procedure or discipline members who violated the rules of the House of Lords. During the speeches in the House to the "Mr. Speaker" (Mr Speaker) be directed to the speeches in the Lords call to "Gentlemen" (My Lord) . In practice, the only task of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords was to formally put the questions to be dealt with to the vote, to announce the result of the vote and, if appropriate, to act as the representative of the House of Lords. During a public emergency, the Lord Chancellor could lift the adjournment of the House of Lords and convene the House of Lords.

When the monarch appoints Lord Commissioners to perform certain acts on his or her behalf, for example to formally notify Parliament that royal approval has been given, the Lord Chancellor serves as the supreme and senior Lord Commissioner. The other Lord Commissioners are traditionally other members of the House of Lords and also members of the Privy Council . Instead of the clothes mentioned above, the Lord Chancellor then wears a parliamentary robe - a floor-length velvet woolen dress trimmed with fur. The Lord Chancellor wears a three-pointed hat, the other Lord Commissioners wear two-pointed hats.

Unlike the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chancellor was not expected to take an impartial position while in office. Instead, the Lord Chancellor continued to act as the government's language organ in the House of Lords. He could take part in debates. Then he either wore his full regalia or stood next to the wool sack to speak. Or else he left his seat to a deputy chairman, dressed in private clothes and spoke of the government bench in the front row. The Speaker of the House of Commons is not regularly allowed to take part in votes. There is an exception if there is otherwise a vote stump. In contrast, the Lord Chancellor was allowed to vote with other members.

During the debates in the House of Lords, Lord Chancellors in office as well as former Lord Chancellors were addressed as "the noble and learned Lord, Lord X" (the noble and learned Lord, Lord X) . Most of the other gentlemen are addressed simply as "the noble lord, Lord X".

Executive functions

The Lord Chancellor is a member of the Privy Council and the Cabinet. The office he holds was called the Lord Chancellor's Office from 1885 to 1971 , then called the Lord Chancellor's Department until 2003 . After the appointment of Lord Falconer of Thoroton as Lord Chancellor, it was renamed the Department for Constitutional Affairs . The Lord Chancellor was given the additional position of Minister of State for Constitutional Affairs . In 2007 it became the Secretary of State for Justice, and the department became the Ministry of Justice . Like all other ministers, the Lord Chancellor must attend Question Time , during which he answers questions from the other members of his Chamber.

The ministry headed by the Lord Chancellor has many responsibilities, such as amendments to the Constitution, including reforming the office of the Lord Chancellor himself, data protection and human rights. The administration of justice is also subordinate to him. The Lord Chancellor also nominates many judges of the courts of England and Wales, who are then appointed by the monarch. The Prime Minister has the power to nominate the country's chief judges. In practice, however, he coordinates this with the Lord Chancellor. For historical reasons, the justices of the peace in the Duchy of Lancaster are appointed by the Ducal Chancellor of Lancaster . The Lord Chancellor also decides which attorneys will be elevated to the rank of Crown Attorney .

The Lord Chancellor is also responsible for overseeing the Great Seal of the Kingdom. Documents to which the Great Seal is pinned are, for example, royal decrees (letters patent) and royal proclamations. The sealing is carried out under the supervision of the Crown Secretary, who is also the permanent secretary of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor, however, does not keep the Great Seal of Scotland; this is in the care of the First Minister of Scotland. The Great Seal of Northern Ireland is in the care of the Northern Ireland Minister.

Modern Lord Chancellors have exercised their judicial functions only very cautiously in practice. It had common law developed that the Lord Chancellor does not judge as a judge on cases in which the government is involved. In addition, many cases were outside the knowledge or interests of the current Lord Chancellor. The functions in relation to the House of Lords and the Justice Committee of the Privy Council are therefore usually delegated to the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary . The task of presiding over the chancery division has been delegated to the vice chancellor, a chief judge. One of the Lord Chancellors in Tony Blair's government, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, had announced that he would not return to judge until the reform of his office was completed or the office was abolished. Nevertheless, he had taken the oath as a judge. It is often said that the Lord Chancellor's most important job is to defend the independence of the courts and to advocate it in the Cabinet.

Church functions

The Lord Chancellor performs various functions related to the Anglican Church of England . He appoints clerics in over four hundred parishes and twelve cathedral chapters . The law states that the Lord Chancellor must be consulted before certain ecclesiastical judges are appointed. Judges in consistorial courts, the Arch Court of Canterbury and the Chancellery of York, and matters reserved at the Court of Justice in the Church may only be appointed after consultation with the Lord Chancellor.

The Lord Chancellor is ex officio one of 33 Church Commissioners who administer the properties of the Church of England. Furthermore, in his capacity as Speaker of the Upper House, he appoints 15 Lords to the Church Committee of Parliament, which advises on the measures adopted by the General Synod of the Church. Only then do they become legally binding.

It used to be assumed that Catholics were not eligible for the office of Lord Chancellor, as some duties relate to the Anglican Church. Many of the legal restrictions were but by the Catholics-equality acts (Catholic Relief Act) suspended from the 1829th This states, however, that “nothing in this should put any person in a position who could not, according to previous law, exercise the office of High Lord Chancellor, Lord Guardian or Lord Commissioner of the Great Seal.” The formulation “who did not already do so according to previous law Right could ”led to a certain controversy here, as it was not clear whether Catholics had been exempt from the office to date. For the sake of clarity, Parliament passed a law in 1974 stating that Catholics are also eligible for the office of Lord Chancellor. However, the law then provides that if a Catholic is appointed, the monarch may temporarily transfer the functions relating to the Anglican Church to the Prime Minister or another minister.

Illustration from the coronation series of the Players cigarettes company in 1937

Other functions

Under the Regency Act of 1937, the Lord Chancellor is one of five people who may attend to deliberate whether the monarch is able to carry out his or her royal duties. The other four people are the monarch's spouse, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Supreme Lord Justice of England and Wales and the Master of the Rolls . If three or more of these decide that the monarch is seriously ill mentally or physically, the royal functions can be transferred to a regent.

The Lord Chancellor is also the Queen's “guardian of conscience”. As such, he was once the chief judge of the Chancellery Court in London, who compensated for softening the severity of the law.

The Lord Chancellor is also the visitor of many universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, and other non-profit organizations throughout the kingdom. If the rules of the organization do not specify an overseer or the office of overseer is temporarily vacant, the monarch assumes the function of overseer, but delegates the powers to the Lord Chancellor.


Like the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chancellor has his official residence in the Palace of Westminster . Before the beginning of each meeting day, he marched in procession from his official seat to the Chamber of Lords. The Lord Chancellor was preceded by the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms, also known as the first gatekeeper of the house, and the bearer of the royal purse. The gatekeeper carried the ceremonial mace (The Mace) and the holder of the purse carried a large purse adorned with the royal insignia and initials. The Lord Chancellor was followed by his train-bearer . Later the " Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod " joined the train . The mace was placed on the woolsack on which the Lord Chancellor sat after a bishop had said a prayer to the House of Lords.

The Lord Chancellor also attended the induction ceremony in the House of Lords. This always takes place when a new peer is accepted into the House of Lords. The ceremony used to be a complex ritual. To do this, the new peer had to kneel down in front of the Lord Chancellor and show his letter of appointment, which indicated his right to sit in the House of Lords. After a secretary read the letter aloud, the peer was led to his seat by two other peers. After all three had taken their seats, they immediately got up again, took off their hats and bowed to the Lord Chancellor. This was repeated twice more. Kneeling before the Lord Chancellor and taking off one's hats was considered by some to be unnecessary and degrading. Therefore, the ceremony was abolished in 1998. Nowadays it is enough for the new peers to shake hands with the Lord Chancellor when they are introduced.

The Lord Chancellor is still involved in the annual opening of Parliament to this day . Here the monarch gives the speech from the throne , which contains the government declaration for the beginning of the parliamentary year. The content of the speech is not determined by the monarch, but by the prime minister and the cabinet. As soon as everyone is ready, the Lord Chancellor goes up the steps of the throne, kneels and hands the monarch a piece of parchment on which the speech is written. When descending from the throne, the Lord Chancellor goes backwards so as not to turn his back on the monarch. After the speech has been read, the Lord Chancellor picks up the manuscript in the same way. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone, was once exempt from kneeling because he suffered from arthritis . Lord Irvine of Lairg announced that he would not back down the steps. The later reigning Lord Falconer continued the tradition. At one of the last speeches from the throne, however, the Lord Chancellor announced that no one would go backwards. Consequently, nobody did either.

Priority and privileges of protocol

The Lord Chancellor is the highest of the Great Officers of State. The only exception is the Reichsverweser ( Lord High Steward ), whose office has not been occupied since the 15th century. According to today's customs, the office of Reich Administrator is only filled on the day of the coronation of a new monarch. Thus, at all other times, the Lord Chancellor remains the most senior Great Officer. The importance of the office is shown in the statute on treason of 1351. Accordingly, it is an act of high treason to kill the Lord Chancellor. Eben Such protection enjoyed by the Lord Chief Treasurer ( Lord High Treasurer ), whose term of office but is no longer occupied, and a judge in the courtroom during the trial.

The position of protocol in the so-called order of precedence in the present is extremely high. In general, it is only surpassed by the royal family as well as high churchmen. In England the Lord Chancellor has precedence over all persons except the royal family and the Archbishop of Canterbury . In Scotland he takes precedence over all non-royal persons, with the exception of the Lord High Commissioner, at the general assembly of the Church of Scotland when it is in session. Although he is only a Lord Chancellor of "Great Britain", he has precedence in Northern Ireland over all non-royal persons except the Anglican and Catholic Bishops of Armagh , the Anglican and Catholic Bishops of Dublin and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church . It is noteworthy that the Lord Chancellor has precedence over the Prime Minister throughout the kingdom. The protocol position of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal corresponds to that of the Lord Chancellor, provided the office is occupied. The protocol position of the Lord Commissioners of the Great Seal would, however, be much lower.

The Lord Chancellor is entitled to an annual diet of £ 207,736 and an annual pension of £ 103,868. About 14 percent of this is borne by the House of Lords, for the services of House of Lords spokesman. The Lord Chancellor's salary is higher than that of any other public official, even higher than that of the Prime Minister. Lord Falconer of Thoroton has chosen to take only £ 98,899 to complete. This corresponds to the salary of the other cabinet ministers in the upper house.


The combination of executive , legislative and judicial powers in the office of the Lord Chancellor has been increasingly criticized in public. The power of the Lord Chancellor to administer justice also came under public pressure after the previous Lord Chancellor had refused to exclude Lord Irvine of Lairg from chairing a trial. The Blair administration had proposed that the office be abolished entirely. In doing so, however, she aroused criticism from those who believed that such a civil servant was necessary to advocate the independence of the judiciary. There were also some who opposed the abolition of such a venerable office.

In 2003 Tony Blair selected Lord Falconer for the office of Lord Chancellor and Minister of Constitutional Affairs. At the same time, he announced his intention to abolish the office and carry out further constitutional reforms. It turned out that the office of Lord Chancellor could not be abolished without a parliamentary law. In accordance with his duties, Lord Falconer therefore appeared in the House of Lords the following day to carry out his official duties from the Woolsack . However, its government department was renamed the Constitutional Affairs Department. Lord Falconer announced that, unlike his predecessor, he would not conduct any court hearings.

The government submitted a constitutional reform law to the House of Lords in February 2004. The law provided for the abolition of the office of the Lord Chancellor and transferring his functions to other government representatives: the legislative functions to a speaker of the House of Lords, the executive functions to the Minister for Constitutional Affairs and the judicial functions to the Lord Chief Justice. The law also included other constitutional reforms. So the judicial powers of the upper house should be transferred to a constitutional court.

In March 2004, the Lords thwarted government plans by relegating the law to a Select Committee . Although this was initially seen as a move to overthrow the law, the government and opposition agreed to push the law further through the legislative process. In doing so, it should be amended according to the proposals of the Conciliation Committee.

On July 13, 2004, the House of Lords changed the Constitutional Reform Act to retain the title of Lord Chancellor. The other reforms put forward by the government were not implemented. In November 2004, the government tabled an amendment that removed all mention of the Minister for Constitutional Affairs. The Lord Chancellor took his place. The two cabinet posts should therefore be filled out by the same person. The final version of the Constitutional Reform Act received royal approval on March 24, 2005. The file no longer guaranteed the Lord Chancellor that he would be the chairman of the House of Lords. Instead, the Lords can now elect their own Speaker of Parliament. This first happened in 2006. Helene Hayman, Baroness Hayman was elected to the office of Lord Speaker on July 4, 2006.

See also

Literature and web links

Web links

Commons : Lord Chancellors  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Lord Chancellor | British official . In: Encyclopedia Britannica . ( britannica.com [accessed July 5, 2018]).