The announcement raises important issues of principle. The two most important are:
Structures are required which will prevent the additional responsibilities taken on by the new ministry interfering with or damaging the independent administration and proper funding of the court service.
The continuing problems of prison overcrowding and the availability of resources to provide the sentences imposed by the courts necessitate public debate. The judiciary are of the view that any changes to the present arrangements will, in due course, require legislation. Without this debate there is a risk that the new Ministry will be faced with a situation of recurrent crisis, or judges will be placed under pressure to impose sentences that they do not believe are appropriate.
The senior judges have already made it plain that structural safeguards must be put in place to protect the due and independent administration of justice. These concerns must be addressed. Provided that they are, there would be no objection in principle to the creation of a new Ministry with responsibility for both offender management and the court service.
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers,
Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales
As ever, Lord Phillips picks his words with great care, but what a contrast there is between this and the ever-changing tabloid-led rhetoric of politicians.
As a very junior member of the judiciary that Lord Phillips leads, I know which side I am on.