The Law Lords are the most senior members of the judiciary in the United Kingdom. They constitute the highest court of appeal in the land for most legal cases, though the Privy Council has this role in some legal areas. The correct name for the Law Lords is Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. They were first appointed to the House of Lords in 1876 – the result of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876.
Law Lords are appointed by the serving Prime Minister but they are formally appointed by the monarch. They serve until they are 70 years old but this can be extended by the government to 75 – though any Law Lord of this age or above cannot participate in legal cases. The number of Law Lords who can adjudicate on judicial matters stands at twelve.
By tradition Law Lords do not participate in political discussions, as they need to be seen to be independent of political bias.
In 2005, the Constitutional Reform Act was passed. This will mean that once it comes into being, the Law Lords will sit as judges on a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
To be a member of the House of Lords, no one needs a specific qualification with the exception of the Law Lords. To become a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, an individual will have needed to have held a “high judicial office” for two years or to have been a practising barrister for fifteen years. The term “high judicial office” refers to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The work of the Law Lords is supervised by the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, or in his absence, the Second Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.
Not all Law Lords meet to adjudicate on an issue. Panels known as Appellate Committees fulfil this task. Each Appellate Committee usually consists of five Law Lords though more may sit on a panel if the issue is deemed important enough. The Senior Law Lord appoints who sits on what panel. The judgement made by an Appellate Committee is made in the Lords itself.