He added that we have sometimes “run ahead of common sense” which accounts for the incomprehension of sentencing legislation under the previous government.
The Lord Chancellor faced a series of well prepared questions from each member of the newly formed Committee which includes a number of recently practising barristers and solicitors. He freely admitted that he didn’t have all the answers.
He was concerned that the prison population had doubled since he was Home Secretary; he recognised though that we have created a “growing underclass” of people who know that they will be “back soon” an “inexplicable” number of whom are women. He wanted to see fewer prisoners but made no claim for his ability to reduce the crime rate. At this stage of discussions over funding he could not be specific about the future of legal aid though he was considering some form of insurance (“I haven’t found a more expensive system” in the world than the one we have now). He wondered about the underlying structure whereby defendants only pleaded guilty at the door of the court and cases seemed to take so long that there could be reverse incentives to keep costs down.
Although he has “no particular criticism” of the Judicial Appointments Commission, it costs £10 million a year and takes 18 months to choose a judge through an “elaborate process” which may not be making a notable difference to the judiciary. He was not fussed about competitive tendering (“we have enough lawyers” and there is “no lack of people wanting to come in”). “I haven’t made that many policy decisions yet”, he concluded.