Saturday, April 01, 2006

New Man At The Top

I had a very posh envelope in my post yesterday, carrying the Royal Cipher on the flap. I opened it with trembling fingers: what was it? A knighthood? An OBE? The sack?

No, it was a letter to all magistrates from the new head of the judiciary, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers (I looked it up; it's in Dorset). From this month Charlie Falconer, the cheery chappie, loses his job as I/C judges and magistrates in the desirable cause of separating the incorruptible and impartial judiciary from scurvy politicians. The Lord Chief Justice is now the boss, but it is such an enormous job, with 400 statutory functions, that he will have to delegate large parts of it to other judges.

In time Lord P will preside over the Supreme Court, to which end the Crown Court is being turfed out of the Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square. I am told that the 21st-century court will not have the bench-and-well-of-court structure of the Crown Courts, but will be on a flat floor. It will need a lot of space, because the most constitutionally important cases might be heard by a court of a dozen judges or so.

The business displaced from Guildhall has to go somewhere, so the Crown Court system in London is going to be re-jigged, with new courtrooms here and there and wholesale reallocation of work.

In the meantime the rumour mill has gone into overdrive, because there is a buzz that the eight percent budget cut cannot be accommodated without tearing up the existing courts' system in London (implemented only recently) and making swingeing cuts. Managers are starting to dust off their CVs (or they will if they have any sense).

Interesting times. Lord Phillips has work to do to ensure that whatever reorganisation is inflicted on us this time does not impinge on judicial independence. Welcome aboard, Guv.

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