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Former UK top judge concerned over plan to split justice ministry from Home Office

[JURIST] Lord Woolf [Wikipedia profile], former Lord Chief Justice of English and Wales, told BBC Radio in an interview [recorded audio] broadcast Tuesday that shifting the traditional position of Lord Chancellor [BBC backgrounder] into a new Ministry of Justice split off from the current Home Office [official website] represented a major constitutional change that should be undertaken only after serious study, and not rushed through. A Labour government plan [Home Office press release] developed [JURIST report] earlier this year and announced [BBC report] in late March by British Prime Minister Tony Blair calls for the new Ministry - a successor body to the current Department of Constitutional Affairs and the National Offender Management Service [official websites] - to be responsible for the judiciary and for prisons, probation and the prevention of criminal recidivism, but Woolf warned that the responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor in the expanded Ministry might water down his traditionally close relationship with judges. The jurisdiction of a reduced Home Office would be largely confined to terrorism, security and immigration. The changes are due for implementation in early May.

Woolf told the BBC:

There has been no debate. Parliament has not considered this, but it is going to apparently happen on May 9. I really think with our constitutional arrangements, we should be more careful about how these matters are dealt with.

We have no written constitution which is entrenched and our constitution works through checks and balances and it is very important that if we are starting to alter the framework of checks and balances, that the matter is looked at carefully.

I am not saying that it can't be made to work satisfactorily. What I am saying is that we should work it out beforehand and not wait until we have created the change and then somehow or other try to scramble to get it into place.

This is a very big change for our constitution and I say this for no reason other than that I am concerned for our well-being as a nation.
The proposed split comes in response to multiple recent problems and scandals involving Home Office administration, but opposition critics and even former Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke have assailed it as "irresponsible" and likely to lead to more problems by compromising the coherence of the British criminal justice system. The Independent has local coverage. The Times has more.

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