Costs for rehousing the country's most senior judges in a new Supreme Court building could reach £32m, ministers admitted yesterday.
The figure emerged as Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, published details of the Government's constitutional reform programme. Lord Falconer said he was considering a number of options, with price tags ranging from £6m to £32m.
Proposals under consideration are thought to be the west wing of Somerset House, or the Thames, and Middlesex Guildhall, on Parliament Square, both of which would both be cheaper than a new building. His experience as minister for the Millennium Dome will remind him of the dangers associated with a over-budget political folly.
This month, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said in an interview that he would withdraw his support for the move if there was insufficient funding. But ministers, acutely aware of the controversy surrounding the over-budget parliamentary buildings of Holyrood House and Portcullis House, want to keep a tight rein on the costs.
The Constitutional Reform Bill, published yesterday, made it clear that the costs for establishing the Supreme Court would be split over three years.
It estimated that judges' salaries would be £2.1m, while annual building costs would run between £1.6m and £6.5m. Approximately 80 per cent of the costs will be recovered through income generated by the courts.
It also emerged yesterday that the Lord Chancellor will lose a large part of his pension as part of constitutional reforms.
Lord Falconer will receive the lower Cabinet minister's pension rather than the generous package attached to his post. He has already opted to take a salary of £98,899 rather than the £207,000 to which he is entitled.
His predecessor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was reported to have accumulated a pension pot worth more than £2m after just six years in the post.
The Constitutional Reform Bill sets out a "guarantee" of judges' independence, will also take the appointment of judges largely out of ministers' hands with the creation of a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). Although ministers will retain a veto, its use would be "very rare", said Lord Falconer.
He left the door open for the JAC to set targets for numbers of female and ethnic minority judges, although critics protested that the quality of the judiciary would suffer if people were not appointed on merit alone.
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