Page last updated at 13:43 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 14:43 UK

Judge makes plea for fewer laws

Sir Igor Judge
The speech's audience included Justice Secretary Jack Straw

The most senior judge in England and Wales has criticised the government for passing too many crime laws.

Sir Igor Judge made a plea for less legislation in a speech at the Lord Mayor of London's dinner for judges.

He said in 2003 six major statutes were passed, including the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, The Extradition Act, The Sexual Offences Act and the Courts Act.

The Ministry of Justice said the laws had made a "significant contribution" to crime reduction.

Sir Igor also criticised the government for making "major constitutional changes" without consulting judges.

He said in 2003, Parliament also passed "the great Daddy of them all", the Criminal Justice Act which had 1,169 paragraphs.

"My ... request is one which has been frequently addressed, but so far without success. Can we possibly have less legislation, particularly in the field of criminal justice," he said.

Constitutional changes

He added: "My Lord Mayor, in a rough and ready calculation, it seems to me that if every line of recent criminal justice legislation had been guaranteed by a payment to the Bank of England of £10,000 a line, the credit crisis would have been funded."

Constitutional changes, which removed the Lord Chancellor as head of the judiciary, were made "without so much as the courtesy of a letter or even a telephone call to the Lord Chief Justice," he said.

And the decision to split the Home Office and create the Ministry of Justice in 2007 was announced by a minister "in an article in a Sunday newspaper," he complained.

Sir Igor also voiced concern that plans to clean up parliament could lead to "conflict" between the judiciary and Parliament.

Provisions contained within the Parliamentary Standards Bill make some of the internal workings of Parliament subject to judicial review.

He said: "I remain concerned at the possibility of any kind of judicial review of any aspect of the governance of Parliament.

"This would have the potential to bring the judiciary into conflict with Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons.

"This would be an unpalatable clash, and dangerous for our constitutional arrangements, and the understandings which enable them to work."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "The legislative measures have been introduced to meet the public's concerns, and also to make good deficiencies in the law which had not been dealt with in the decades before.

"They have made a significant contribution, along with far better policing and firmer sentencing, to the 40% decrease in crime over the past decade.

"Many of the new offences are technical offences, designed to fill a gap in the law, and many others replace old offences without significantly changing the overall scope of the law."

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