Confirmation came yesterday that, as widely trailed over the last few months, the Home Office will shortly shed some of its responsibilities to the Department of Constitutional Affairs, which will become a Ministry of Justice. Probation, prisons and courts will be the principal elements to shift, though responsibility for policing, counter-terrorism and immigration will remain. However, there will still be a National Criminal Justice Board which will be jointly chaired by the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Attorney General, which in effect means that the Home Office will still be keeping its fingers in the criminal justice pie. The Home Office's statement notes that some of these changes, including the creation of the Ministry of Justice, will take place in May this year.
The announcement attracted quite a bit of criticism, particularly as it was felt this was rushed out before the Easter recess, thus preventing a proper chance for debate. The main attacks have focused on the expense and effort involved in yet another change within the Home Office (the cost of establishing NOMS, which still as yet is not entirely functional and may still be contingent on the safe passage of the Offender Management Bill, is said to have been as much as the budget for the whole of the National Probation Service), and further fragmentation in a ministry that has been heavily criticised for poor internal communication. The former Home Sec Charles Clarke was particularly scathing, and I would think he could be forgiven for being a bit miffed about this, given that it seems that John Reid has surfed over just as many crises as Clarke did, but managed to dodge the flak.
Today's Guardian leader is very critical, speculating that the announcement is more about the political impact of being seen to be doing something (probably ahead of the local elections in May). The Times asks questions about how sections within the two departments will now be able to work with each other (particularly the police, who will remain under the Home Office), and Peter Riddell comments that Reid had to play the "terrorism card" in order to get his way.
In other news this week: a few days ago we saw the publication of the government's Security, Crime and Justice Review: I'll admit to not having read it in great detail, as I've been far too busy, but the impression I got was that it was high on headline-grabbing 'ideas' such as fingerprint-activated MP3 players to cut crime (a side effect of which would probably be an expansion of the fingerprint databases...) and low on anything really new (it mentioned continuing the Permanent Revolution in privatising criminal justice services - I may be paraphrasing). And later on today we'll hear what the new record number of prison places is.