Veteran jurist and campaigner Louis Blom-Cooper QC has proposed that the next government set up a royal commission on the penal system to end the ‘perverse’ outcomes of politicians setting sentencing policy.

In a pamphlet co-authored with academic Seán McConville, of Queen Mary University of London School of Law, Blom-Cooper says that the existing political mechanism is ‘ill-adapted to construct and promulgate penal and related criminal justice policy’. One result is a soaring prison population when crime is falling.

‘We have a disjunction here that were it to occur in almost any other field of public administration would have been at the centre of a prolonged national debate,’ the authors state. They say that successive governments since 1980 have failed to employ any expert body to set policy.

To fill the gap they recommend a royal commission to examine such questions as the relationship between crime rates and punishment, and how the budget for the penal system should be spent.

A commission set up with ‘tight terms of reference’ in the early months of the next parliament could report in two years, giving the next government time to act on its findings, the authors say.