The last judgment
Fri Jul 31 09:31AM
Yesterday saw another little bit of Britain slip away quietly, as the law lords delivered their final judgments in the Lords chamber.
By Alex Stevenson
There was something very British about the whole affair. Something almost pathetic.
Certainly the atmosphere was one of constrained anticipation before the big event. The public gallery was packed, with the queue stretching off and away through the ghostly Palace of Westminster. Inside the chamber, the usually deserted one-row galleries to the sides were full to brimming with as many people as possible seeking to see this little piece of history. There was no vulgar shouting or barging, just polite interest. Utterly British.
Proceedings began as they always have, and will no longer. In trooped the clerks, bewigged and be-robed. Perhaps you could get them to judge whether the latter is a word. In any case they wasted no time in getting proceedings underway, with all rising for the lord chairman to take his seat on the woolsack.
It is with deep shame that this journalist confesses a lack of knowledge to all but the final case. The usual formulas passed by, with each law lord revealing their opinions as they and their predecessors have since – how long? The chief clerk, solemnly bowing between each pronouncement, fiddled absent-mindedly with his white bow-tie. To all intents and purposes it looked like just another day in the office.
But that wasn’t quite true, was it? For prowling the edges of the chamber, appearing insidiously on the steps of the throne and in various galleries, photographers snapped voraciously away. The noble and learned lords studiously ignored their presence as they recorded the demise of parliament’s centuries-old judicial role. Were they ignoring their impending doom? It looked an awful lot like it.
Finally, they came to the Debbie Purdy case, a major news story in its own right. The law lords involved solemnly revealed their intention to force the director of public prosecutions to publish “offence-specific policy” about the case of the right-to-die claimant. There was something fitting about their final judgment resulting in a real shift in the law. It was the law lords at their best.
But it was now over. “My lords, we have delivered our last judgment,” one uttered. “Sadly, our time has come to an end.”
And sad it was indeed, as smiles played over the faces of the wise, implacable ones. This was to be no ground-shaking work of oratory, merely a simple passing away into history. We were told the clerk above the bar had beneath him a Latin inscription to the effect that all things must wrap up.
“We could prolong this session a little longer but the fact is there is nothing left that I can do,” the Last Law Lord bleated.
And that was that: the law lords in the House of Lords rose for the last time, trooping out of the chamber for the final time.
The official sitting in front of me scratched his head thoughtfully, musing on this magnificently understated moment in British history. “I wonder if they’re selling it on DVD?” he pondered.