Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lord Falconer proves the Lord Chief Justice right?

Thanks to a journey that was extended by delays this morning I managed to read a lot more of the papers than I normally would, which led me to see a little announcement buried at the back of The Times about a comment that the Justice Minister, Lord Falconer had made.

With news of the ever-growing prison population, and the fact that he had taken over the proposed "prison building" programme (which if I recall correctly was actually going to be about building pre-fabs), Falconer said, "More offenders who are not considered a threat to the public and who would face a term of 12 months or less must be dealt with in the community".

Back when the Ministry of Justice was hastily formed, there was, and still is, an ongoing battle with the Lord Chief Justice about the conflict of interest that lies at the heart of the structure. The argument put forward was simple. Having judges who send people to prison under the same Minister who is responsible for prisons could lead to the Minister exerting undue pressure due to budgetary constraints on judges sentencing.

The Government has simply dismissed this argument. However, surely this latest comment by Lord Falconer simply proves the point perfectly? By making it clear that he think sending people to prison is no longer the solution, he is signalling political pressure on judges to apply the law for political, rather than legal reasons.

Put aside the reality that not sending a mugger to prison for 12 months and putting him on the street will most likely increase crime. It seems clear does it not that the Judicial independence from the politics of Government is under threat for precisely the reason the Lord Chief Justice has argued?

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