Judges get serious - constitutional crisis looming?
The Magistrate's Blog reports today on an exceptional communication today from the Lord Chief Justice to all members of the judiciary. This must be a matter of national concern; rarely has such a fundamental disagreement between the executive and the judiciary in this country erupted so openly. The evidence given by their lordships to the Lord's Constitution Committee is HERE, including the Judicial Position Paper that Lord Phillips refers to in his extraordinary letter to judges and magistrates.
The issues are these. The government has designed a new Ministry of Justice on the back of a fag packet and brought it in virtually overnight. The intention seems to be to amalgamate the budgets for courts and prisons, so that if the civil servants need more money for prisons they can close courts. Or vice versa (but unlikely). It also seems to be strongly suggested that judges should consider the availability of prison places when passing sentence - a consideration wholly absent from English law. Overall, the government's intention seems clear. And it is bloody serious. It is, in my view, to utterly undermine the constitutional position of the judiciary as a separate part of government, make judges into civil servants answerable to and appointed by the executive and thereby to politicise justice in the United Kingdom.
Now, our judges may come in for much stick for some of their judgments; my consolation is that they are more often a thorn in the side of ministers than an outrage to me. Ornery, bloody-minded, individualistic, contrary old buggers they might be. But they form our last line of defence against the iniquities of a police state, the loss of freedom in this nation and in the preservation of that justice and equity that has ruled our society in these islands for a thousand years.
I for one stand solidly with them in this matter. I urge you to do likewise.