Is it true that the judges boycotted the opening party for the new Ministry of Justice or did the MoJ just forget to tell them about it? And will anyone remember the civil courts in the excitement over prisons and civil liberties?
I ask about the party invitations because it appears that no-one remembered to tell Lord Falconer about the imminent dismemberment of his former department, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and the creation of a whole new one. He read about it in a Sunday newspaper in January where he found that the DCA – not a bad department by the standards of the times – was to be renamed and dumped with the least competent part of the Home Office functions, including those responsible for prisons.
One cannot blame John Reid, the Home Secretary, for this novel approach to his workload – which of us would not knock up a new ministry to take away the difficult parts of our job, given the chance? John Reid, however, will be off on his hols for ever after tomorrow, so will not benefit from the change. It seems unlikely that Falconer will survive Blair’s departure on Thursday. They will barely have put his name on the door of his shiny new Ministry and he will be off.
I have a sneaking regard for Falconer ever since he told against himself the Ronnie Corbett joke about Corbett’s cat, known apparently as “Lord Falconer” because it is “fat, lives rent-free in the lap of luxury, and is no bloody good to anyone”. He also did quite a good turn on the BBC’s Question Time, managing somehow to mouth the party line in the tone of a barrister putting forward an implausible alibi – he did not believe what he was saying, and he did not expect us to believe it either, but he put up a good show anyway.
Two things bother Lord Philips, the Lord Chief Justice, and his fellow judges. One concerns the independence of judges – something which must concern all of us as a matter not just of abstract constitutional importance but one affecting our basic liberties.
The other is of particular concern to those of us with an interest in the civil courts, the Cinderella of the British legal system. If the competent men and women of the DCA were unable to fight for budget and resources for a desperately-needed IT infrastructure, what chance is there now that we have a single ministry, diluted with Home Office staff, and faced with a whole new set of other neglected – and politically more pressing – responsibilities?