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October 17, 2009

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Queen opens new Supreme Court

QUEEN Elizabeth II formally opened Britain's new Supreme Court in London yesterday in a ceremony attended by high court justices from the United States and around the world.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and top judges from Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and Europe attended the ceremony for a court the government says will make the workings of justice visible and accessible to the British public.

United States Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Stephen Breyer and Antonin Scalia watched the ceremony, which included a verse for the new court by former poet laureate Andrew Motion.

For hundreds of years, Britain's highest court of appeal was the Law Lords, a group of justices who sat in Parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Earlier this month the judges shed their wigs and ermine-trimmed robes and moved to a new home in a renovated 100-year-old courthouse across Parliament Square from the Houses of Parliament.

The court began hearing cases on October 5.

The government says the new court corrects one of the quirks of Britain's ancient and unwritten constitution, separating the country's judicial and legislative powers.

Brown said that, with the formation of the court, "a separation of powers once only guaranteed by convention is now cemented by statute."

The new court also is equipped with cameras and microphones so proceedings can be broadcast. Recording is prohibited in most British courts.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said that the Supreme Court underlined the independence of the judicial system.

He said the work of the Law Lords had been "opaque and was obscured from public view."

"In this place we now have this court -- public, accessible, visible -- situated in this square at the heart of our nation's history over a millennium," Straw said.


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