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Cover The Changing Constitution

8. The Foundations of Justice  

Andrew Le Sueur

Everybody agrees there is broad consensus that the constitutional principle of judicial independence is important. In relation to the core judicial functions of hearing cases and writing judgments, the central meaning and application of the principle is fairly straightforward: people holding public office (politicians, parliamentarians, and officials) must refrain from interfering with judicial decision-making in individual cases; and judges should be protected from illegitimate pressure from the news media and other organizations. But hearings and judgments do not ‘just happen’; they have to be facilitated by a wide array of institutions and processes (the justice infrastructure), covering matters as diverse as court buildings, litigation procedures, judicial careers, and legal aid. In the absence of a codified constitution, in the United Kingdom the justice infrastructure is set out in Acts of Parliament, delegated legislation and ‘soft law’ (including the 2003 ‘Concordat’). The day-to-day running of the justice infrastructure can be understood in terms of who carries out functions related to the administration of justice—the judges, government (in particular, the Lord Chancellor), functions shared between judges and government, and functions given to arm’s length bodies. Periodically, the justice infrastructure is reshaped. This is a constitutionally significant activity that may take place in different settings—the political environment, expert environments, and blended environments. The day-to-day running of this infrastructure, along with its periodic reshaping, presents numerous and complex challenges for a legal system intent on respecting judicial independence and facilitating access to justice.