Robust ministers capable of standing up to wily members of the civil service and of reforming outdated systems invariably gain public approval. But as witnessed in the TV series Yes, Minister, even the most adroit politician can be outmanoeuvred by a skilful opponent.
When the politician is as forceful as Justice Minister Alan Shatter and his opponents highly qualified and privileged judges whose independence is protected under the Constitution, the scenario takes on an altogether different perspective. With relations between them as cool as ice, matters are further complicated.
Those relations look set to deteriorate further after his observation that they were sending too many people to prison instead of sentencing them to community service. It is a view many people would endorse.
Mr Shatter complained to prison officers that legislation requiring judges to first consider community service when sentencing people to less than a year was under-utilised. While he denies criticising the judges, doubtless they will hear criticism.
This battle of wills is set to run and run.
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