UK Home Office announces major changes, new Ministry of Justice

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Britain's outgoing Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced a shake-up of Home Office responsibilities and divisions on 29 March 2007. In addition to its role in police service, crime reduction, immigration and asylum, and identity and passports, the Home Office will now have a stronger role in dealing with the threat of terrorism. A new department, the Ministry of Justice, will also be created.

An 'Office of Security and Counter-terrorism' will be formed within the Home Office, which will be responsible for developing and supporting a UK-wide counter-terrorism strategy.

"All those working in the field of counter-terrorism - particularly the police, security and intelligence agencies - have worked unstintingly to protect the country from the threats we face. Our counter-terrorism capabilities are among the best in the world. However, the continuing and growing threat from terrorism means the government must develop and improve its counter-terrorism and security capabilities, and its governance," Blair stated.


Breakdown of restructuring

Part of the changes will include a new 'Ministerial Committee on Security and Terrorism', which the Prime Minister will chair. It will meet regularly to share information on security issues. A national security board, chaired by the Home Secretary, will meet weekly to assess threats to the UK.

The Ministry of Justice will be formed to provide a "stronger focus" on the criminal justice system and reducing repeat offences. It will replace both the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which had responsibility over prisons and probation services. The Ministry of Justice will be in charge of criminal law and sentencing. The Office of Criminal Justice Reform will operate from the new ministry but will otherwise remain unchanged.

About 350 more counter-terrorism staff will be transferred to the Home Office. John Reid, the Home Secretary, said the overall numbers will fall as prisons, probation and sentencing switch to a new Justice Ministry, an expanded version of the Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA).

Mr. Reid will become Britain's "security supremo" under the restructuring.

According to Blair, the new Ministry of Justice "take the leading role in delivering a fairer, more effective, speedy and efficient justice system" and will be implemented in May. The security and counter-terrorism measures will be implemented immediately.

The breakdown will look like this now:

Ministry of Justice

Home Office

PrisonsSecurity and counter-terrorism
ProbationPolicing
Criminal lawCrime reduction
SentencingDrugs
The Department of Constitutional Affairs -
courts, justice system, human rights,
freedom of information, elections, constitution
Anti-social behavior
Immigration and asylum
Identity and Passport Service


Controversy and criticisms

The changes are already causing controversy. Primary among them are that no cost estimate is yet being provided with the restructuring. Also, while acknowledging that strengthening Britain against threats of terrorism is a laudable goal, the proposed restructuring may do so at the expense of fighting existing crime within the United Kingdom.

Charles Clarke, Mr. Reid's predecessor at the Home Office, condemned the decision as "irresponsible", warning that it would delay critical reforms. He told MPs: "The coherence and co-ordination of the criminal justice system, which is so important for its success, will be damaged seriously by these proposals."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said the shake-up had been rushed through in a "shoddy and cynical way."

"It gives every impression of being shaped by the political timetable of Tony Blair's departure and John Reid's ambition to be installed as the Government's anti-terror supremo before Gordon Brown takes over."

The Conservatives also expressed opposition to the split, characterizing it as causing more problems.

The Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said: "The logic, presumably, is that this job is too difficult for the home secretary to do. It has been well run in the past by home secretaries of all parties, when it was much bigger and still had responsibility for licensing, gambling, broadcasting, fire, civil defense, human rights, equal opportunities and charities."

"Breaking it up will solve none of the Home Office's problems. It will just create a whole new raft of problems."

He said that rather than having one department unfit for purpose, the danger was now that there would be two, an apparent reference to Mr. Reid's characterization of the Home Office last year as "not fit for purpose" when he took the reigns from Mr. Clarke.

The announcement comes in the wake of new measures to UK border security and immigration requirements announced the day before.


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