Judges unite to slam Ministry of Justice

Senior judges have backed the Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips’ criticisms of the new Ministry of Justice (MoJ) after an emergency meeting of the Judge’s Council was held yesterday (15 May).

The eight-member Judicial Executive Board and the 18-strong Judges’ Council, which represent the judiciary at all levels in England and Wales, backed Phillips LCJ concerns which he raised last week as the MoJ opened on 9 May.

The Council, however, said that no agreement had been made to back the MoJ, which merged the Department of Constitutional Affairs and the sentencing and prisons arm of the Home Office under one division, as “difficult issues remain”.

The issues were the same as those highlighted by Phillips LCJ last week, which includes the MoJ not having in place “constitutional safeguards to protect the independence of the judiciary and the proper administration of justice”.

However, the Council did say that “much progress had been made”.

The outcome of the meeting has increased the pressure on the Government to admit it was wrong to implement the new department within a six-week timetable and without proper safeguards for judicial independence being agreed.

Phillips LCJ is now due to appear before the House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Select Committee next Tuesday (22 May), where he will outline his findings in full.

In addition to the Judicial Executive Board, which includes master of the rolls Sir Anthony Clarke, prominent members of the Judges’ Council included Lord Justices Waller and Scott Baker from the Court of Appeal bench and presiding judges Mr Justices Simon and Wilkie.

The news comes as the MoJ proposed a new scheme to improve court services in England and Wales.

The Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer today (16 May) announced a series of measures designed to speed up the way court system, after a long consultation with courts staff.

The proposals include ensuring cases heard in the Crown Court are completed within 16 weeks, resolving child care cases within 40 weeks and dealing with most guilty pleas in magistrates’ courts at the first hearing.