Downing Street and the Lord Chancellor's Department this week hit back at criticism of the appointment of two “anti-punishment” Appeal Court judges.

Conservative newspapers were critical of the appointment of Sir Henry Brooke and Sir Mark Potter to the Appeal Court.

Calling the judges “anti-punishment”, the Daily Mail raised the spectre of senior members of the judiciary increasingly being made up of liberal-minded individuals who oppose Home Secretary Michael Howard's policy of locking up more criminals.

But a spokesman for Downing Street said that appointments were “based solely on merit and have nothing to do with politics”.

The Lord Chancellor's Department adopted a similar stance.

Appeal Court appointments are made by the Prime Minister, who consults with the Lord Chancellor. The nominations are then approved by the Privy Council.

A third appointment was that of Sir Igor Judge. The appointments raise the tally of Appeal Court judges from 32 to 35.

The increase follows a report on court delays by Master of the Rolls Sir Thomas Bingham which prompted the Lord Chancellor to bring forward a review of judicial strength in the Appeal Court by two years.

In his report, Bingham said that the backlog of unheard appeals had continued to rise and would keep on growing.

He said that the backlog of cases had more than doubled between 1990 and 1995, and that the number of appeal applications and disposed cases had also shot up.

The new judges will now become Mr Justice Brooke, aged 60, Mr Justice Judge, aged 55, and Mr Justice Potter, aged 59.

Justices Brooke, Judge and Potter had all been High Court judges since 1988.