Institutions of the state are studied primarily in terms of behaviour, powers and outputs. Little attention has been paid to their location and how this affects relationships between them. This article examines the effects of location through a study of the highest domestic court in the United Kingdom moving from the Palace of Westminster to a separate building across the road from the Parliament. It examines the perceived benefits of the court and Parliament sharing the same space and the consequences of separation. The move from within the Palace of Westminster has effected a shift in judicial– legislative relations from one of respective autonomy to one of democratic dialogue.
In this article, we address the importance of place in terms of affecting the relationship between organs of the state, in this case principally legislatures and the courts. The importance of place here refers not to the place of the institution in constitutional terms but to physical location.
Scholars analyse institutions as formal entities, fulfilling particular tasks and enjoying relationships with other bodies. These relationships encompass the formal and the informal. The formal is the principal focus of scholarly analysis, not least because it is usually visible and quantifiable. Works address behaviour, powers and outputs. Informal relationships are less visible and quantifiable, but nonetheless important. There may be informal contact with members of other bodies. There may be informal contact between members of the same institution. How members meet informally may facilitate socialisation into the institution, information exchange and lobbying. Such interactions may help develop or reinforce the autonomy of the body.1 However, relationships may be affected by the physical location of each entity. That location is observable — each body has its principal or sole physical site (a court or parliament building) — but its relevance may be difficult to discern, both in terms of consequences for the relationship between the different organs of the state and between those organs and the citizen.
Place may be important simply in terms of occupying a recognised site. Here, design as much as a single location is of significance. Buildings are variously designed to impress. They may acquire an iconic status: the Palace of Westminster and No 10 Downing Street in the United Kingdom, for example, and the Capitol Building, the White House and the Supreme Court building in the Unites States. As buildings, they may serve to build not only popular recognition but also some degree of pride. Others may not acquire the same status. In part, this may be a factor of location. The split location of the European Parliament — plenary sessions in Strasbourg and committee meetings in Brussels (although with the capacity for plenary sessions there as well) — may militate against popular visual recognition. There is no one obvious image of the Parliament to compete with the image of either the Palace of Westminster or the Capitol Building.
The importance of symbolism in terms of buildings is also reflected in two recent developments. One is in the United Kingdom, where there are proposals for members of both Houses of Parliament to leave the Palace of Westminster for several years, while the Palace undergoes a major programme of restoration and renewal.2 The temporary locations proposed for the two Houses are not likely to achieve the same iconic status as the Palace of Westminster and at a more practical level are likely to affect how members do their work. Of relevance to our thesis as to place, the split sites may also affect the relationship between the two chambers, not least the extent and nature of contact between the members.