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lord chancellor. Edward the Confessor first created the post of chancellor, which has always remained one of the leading offices of state. The chancellor was keeper of the great seal and acted as chief secretary to the king, drawing up charters and writs. When the office of justiciar ended in the mid-13th cent. the chancellor became the most important man in the country after the king. He was a leading adviser and presided over meetings of the great council. In the 14th cent. the chancellor entered the legal system when he began to hear appeals from subjects unable to obtain justice from the common law courts. From this it evolved that the chancellor became a judge in his own court, the Court of Chancery, operating in accordance with the ‘principles of equity’. The modern role of the lord chancellor thus straddles both political and legal spheres. He presides over the highest court of appeal in the country, the House of Lords. He is also part of the legislature, acting as Speaker in the Lords. Finally, the lord chancellor is a government cabinet minister responsible for the operation of the English judicial system. The second Blair administration proposed to replace the Lord Chancellorship by a Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, but, after strong opposition, in 2005 the two offices were merged.
Richard A. Smith