Labour have done more than any other government in history to politicise the judicial system, to turn judges into civil servants no different to any others, responsive to ministers' short-term whims and a tool for gaining votes. To their credit, the judges have put up a bit of a fight. Lord Phillips, who steps down as Lord Chief Justice at the end of the month, wrote an unprecedented circular letter to all English and Welsh judges and magistrates in May 2007 opposing the creation of a new Ministry of Justice from the separate courts and prisons departments. I blogged at the time that:
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.This was strongly denied and repudiated by Jack Straw at the time, and of course it has therefore proved to be true. Courts are being asked to cut their budgets by £90m to pay for prisons.
Straw is an evil little rat with the talents of an accomplished con artist. These days I disbelieve anything he says on principle as soon as he says it; it saves time. When Parliament sits again next month, expect him to bring forward his party funding bill. This will have the sole effect of saving Labour's financial bacon at the taxpayer's expense, although, I have no doubt, Straw will strongly deny and repudiate this.