Monday, February 09, 2009

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Having Trouble Being Supreme : Post Office Refuses UK Parliament Square Address : Website Address Unsuitable

There are several new controversies about the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (established by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and detailed here) which "will take over the Law Lords' judicial functions in the House of Lords and some functions in the Judicial committee of the Privy Council." The House of Lords is currently the court of last resort in the United Kingdom. However, unlike the Supreme Court of the United States, it does not have the power to declare legislation unconstitutional (the UK has no written constitution).

We posted previously at LawPundit about the basics of new UK Supreme Court which will take up work October 2009 at its new location at Middlesex Guildhall:

Middlesex Guildhall (Wikipedia graphic)

Joshua Rozenberg , "Britain's best-known commentator on the law"(see his blog), reports on some of the current controversies in his article Supreme Court inferior to Lords, some judges say. These controversies involve matters which are seen as essential to the public image of the new UK Supreme Court, involving inter alia its postal and website addresses.

Middlesex Guildhall is located on the southwest corner of Parliament Square, also the location of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and Westminster Abbey (site of the coronation of British monarchs and burial site for Kings and Queens and their consorts as also illustrious persons of the realm). Also located on Parliament Square is the Anglican Church of St. Margaret's Westminster, Her Majesty's Treasury, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and Portcullis House (offices of the Members of Parliament).

Since Middlesex Guildhall fronts onto the tiny, stopped Little George Street, however, its address is 2, Little George Street, which the Law Lords - and we agree - do not find appropriate for the institution. However, the Post Office - the Royal Mail - in the UK has indicated no intention to permit an address change. The Law Lords may see this as an unresolvable problem, whereas we would not find this to be a difficult "legal" issue if we were a Law Lord. What would the Post Office do if the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom issued an order "changing" its address to Parliament Square? That would also take care of the ancillary issue of the currently "undistinguished" post code.

As any real estate expert will tell you, "Location, Location, Location". The image that institutions project in terms of their location and "address" should befit their powers and their standing in the government.

As the UK Ministry of Justice has itself noted about the new Supreme Court of the UK:

"The court will be an independent institution, presided over by independently appointed law lords. It will be housed in the historic Middlesex Guildhall on London's Parliament Square - opposite the Houses of Parliament and alongside Westminster Abbey and the Treasury - a fitting location for the apex of the justice system. The Guildhall is being renovated for use as a Supreme Court and is due to open at the start of the legal year in October 2009." [emphasis added by LawPundit]

It is rather remarkable that the bureaucrats of Westminster Council do not understand this:

"Westminster council is, however, unimpressed. "We would be reluctant to carry out changes due to the confusion they could cause the emergency services and Royal Mail," says Tony Fenton, the head of building control. "Unless there's a genuine justification, it just causes needless confusion.""

Apparently, there is a fear here at Westminster that local emergency services would be unable to locate the Supreme Court at Parliament Square (the changed address) and that Royal Mail deliveries to the Supreme Court might be dumped into the Thames for lack of a locatable recipient. We now understand why mail to and from the UK can take weeks. They are looking....

Really, we love the UK, but sometimes its backwardness is exasperating.

A similar controversy exists regarding a proper website address for the UK Supreme Court, which, according to Joshua Rozenberg, is Caught in the Government's web. The Supreme Court of the United States has the relatively logical address The Law Lords wanted the similarly logical and available address, which was denied to them by the bureaucrats. Nor were they allowed the address As Richard Eden writes at the Telegraph in Supreme Court judges complain about the name of their website:

"Judges at the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom have already voiced their displeasure at their postal address, Little George Street, which they complained was "diminutive" and not befitting "the creature being created". They are now complaining about the name of their website....

"We wanted, but we were told we couldn't have it," says Lord Hope, who will be the deputy president of the court when it opens in October. "It is now, which is not particularly attractive."

See nominet for their UK domain rules, which is part of the problem, since direct .uk domains are prohibited by nominet. Note - nevertheless - that some direct .uk domains created prior to the rule of nominet have been retained. Hence, Parliament has a pure .uk address at, and so does the British Library at, so that this is primarily a political question. Nothing technological prohibits a direct .uk address except for the policies of nominet.

In any case, is a third-level domain of the UK government, which makes the UK Supreme Court website address a fourth-level domain, thus making the Supreme Court appear on the web as part of the government, which it is not (see Head of Legal).

Such an address is of course ludicrous for the highest appellate court of the Empire, and a major cause is government inertia. GSi stands for "government secure Internet", an anachronistic system that the UK already wanted to replace in the year 2002 (see The UK government intends to replace the Government Secure Internet), but which still prevails in 2009, seven years later. The wheels of government are locked in the debating hall. The Supreme Court has thus received a "GSi" website address because the UK government is vastly behind the times in keeping up with developments in the Internet world. This compares to a UK population that is quite technology savvy and up with the times, according to stats at Internet World Stats.

To keep our comments fair and balanced, it is clear that a similar problem exists in the USA, where the incoming Obama administration has been amazed at the backward antiquity of the White House Internet access structure.

Take a look at the substantially improved website now under Obama a few short weeks after his inauguration. If the Obama administration is successful in achieving this kind of modernization throughout the US government - and, ultimately, throughout the country - it will mean a massive renewal of much of America.

For more information on related topics, see:

Head of Legal (a view from the legal side of things)
Feilden and Mawson (Architects for the renovation of Middlesex Guildhall)
The Bewilderness ("Address the UK supreme court at number 2, little george street") (map of Little George Street)
.uk Wikipedia wiki (.uk domain names)
Charon QC ("I am baffled by this petulance")

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