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The Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf has delivered his strongest endorsement of the controversial powers held by Lord Irvine.In an overtly political speech at the Lord Mayor’s annual dinner for judges at Mansion House last night, Woolf said that any attempt to dilute the powers of the Lord Chancellor would be a “calamity”.Lord Irvine’s position as the head of the judiciary, the speaker of the House of Lords and as a cabinet member, has come in for increasing criticism from commentators and politicians who believe the Human Rights Act has made his position untenable.But Woolf said the partnership between the Lord Chancellor and the judiciary was “at the heart of the justice system”.“If any other minister were to be placed in charge of the court service, this would certainly be a misfortune and probably a calamity,” he said.In a reference to reports that some senior government ministers favour separating the Lord Chancellor’s powers, he said: “I do not believe that the importance of the relationship between the LCD, the Court Service and the judiciary is generally understood in government.”He cited the listing of cases as one example of this partnership.“It would be intolerable if the Government could select the judge to hear the many cases that are brought against them by members of the public.“The listing of cases is recognised for this reason as being a judicial responsibility. In practice in the Royal Courts of Justice, as in the rest of the country, the very important function of listing is performed by civil servants who are members of the court service. In performing this task, their responsibility is to the judiciary and not the Government.”Woolf’s comments came as Irvine laid out his agenda for the current Parliament, including pledging to strongly enforce freedom of information legislation, which the LCD was given responsibility for in a ministerial shake–up before the general election.Irvine also pledged to this year implement the LCD’s market strategy for legal services to help champion the cause of UK lawyers internationally.

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