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UK judges press for constitutional safeguards under new justice ministry

[JURIST] A crisis meeting of top British judges Tuesday called for constitutional protections in the face of the British government's creation of a new Ministry of Justice [official website]. Members of the Judge's Council [official website] and judges on the UK executive judicial board agreed to press their case with new UK Secretary of State for Justice Lord Falconer of Thoroton [official profile]. Judges have previously expressed concern that oversight of both the courts and the prisons under the new ministry may lead to undue pressure being put on judges [Phillips letter, PDF] over controversial sentencing issues [JURIST report] and may reduce judicial budgetary resources.

The Ministry of Justice began operations last week [JURIST report], as a controversial split of the traditional Home Office [official website] went into effect. Critics of the split have expressed concern over its likely effectiveness, and even doubt its constitutional advisability. Late last month the former Lord Chief Justice of English and Wales Lord Woolf said that shifting the traditional position of Lord Chancellor into the Ministry of Justice represented a major constitutional change [JURIST report] that should be undertaken only after serious study and not rushed through, warning that the responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor in the expanded Ministry might water down his traditionally close relationship with judges. From London, the Times has local coverage.

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