Labour’s plans to split the Home Office in two by creating a fully fledged Ministry of Justice out of the existing Department of Constitutional Affairs has all the hall marks of a classic “act in haste, repent at leisure” political manoeuvre.
This latest Whitehall shake-up seems to have started life as a reaction to the perceived failings of the Home Office in a whole range of areas from prison management to counter-terrorism. Few people seem to doubt that the Home Office’s present portfolio is rather too bloated. What made sense in the 19th century, no longer looks workable in the 21st century and it probably ahs become impossible for one government department to sensibly mage everything that currently falls under the Home Office’s remit.
Accepting the basic premise that reform is needed is one thing but agreeing the way forward is quite another. These are complex, sensitive political and constitutional areas that are woven into the very fabric of what we understand as British society. Issues such as the independence of the judiciary are not to be tampered with lightly. Yet, reform is being rushed through with indecent haste.
Within weeks we will have a Ministry of Justice, replacing the Department of Constitutional Affairs as the government rushes ahead. It feels pleased with itself that it has found a way of implementing these reforms without the need for legislation. It should wipe that smug grin off its face. Sweeping changes to such well established institutions need the harsh glare of Parliamentary scrutiny turned on them.
Some way down the agenda from the huge constitutional concerns about the independence of the judiciary must come a raft of worries in the insurance industry and legal profession about the implications of the change for many of the constant dialogues they have with the Home Office’s legal departments. It is easy to dismiss these as detailed concerns of a narrow group of people but, frequently, they affect millions of policyholders. You only have to look back at some of the issues that have come up in recent years such as debates about the costs of after the event insurance or the implications of rulings on asbestosis liabilities to understand the potential human impact of getting major departmental changes wrong.
Almost everyone acknowledges that the Home Offices needs major reform and that its role needs to be more focussed so there is already a following wind. Why not take a few months longer just to make sure that nothing has been overlooked and that the proper constitutional safeguards are in place to everyone’s satisfaction?
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