Protecting the public
The judges are in the dock. The charge? Being too soft. The sentence? To be named and shamed in The Sun followed, if they get their way, by the sack.
The new home secretary has rushed to join the campaign, issuing a public denunciation of the sentencing of Craig Sweeney, the paedophile whose horrific attack on a three year old girl resulted in a sentence that could be a short as five years (although it might be as long as life).
John Reid believes that the public should know where the fault lies for sentences which are "too lenient", and hopes that public pressure will make judges think twice before passing them. Good for him, many of the public and a good many politicians will say.
Not so the attorney general. It is he who has the power to ask the Court of Appeal to consider whether a sentence is too lenient - something he's done 339 times in the past three years, producing increased sentences in roughly three quarters of cases. He has, though, to make a legal case and not one rooted in politics or public outrage. He knows that the judges regard comments like those of the home secretary as an improper political assault on judicial independence (listen to the former judge Sir Oliver Popplewell on the Today programme this morning warning John Reid that "it is unwise for the Home Secretary to poke his nose into legal affairs").
The attorney fears that defence lawyers may use such political pressure in court to argue that their client's case has been pre-judged by the media - as happened in last week's review of the sentences given to a baby rapist.
The attorney general also has powers to ask judges to look again at sentencing practice. He has already asked the Sentencing Guidelines Council to look at what he believes is the unduly lenient sentencing in paedophile cases. And the council is already looking into the issue of whether and how sentences should be reduced for guilty pleas.
The five year minimum sentence handed out yesterday stemmed not from the top of the judges head, but from a sentencing formula - 18 years for the offence, take away a third for a guilty plea (leaving 12), then half what you're left with for the date parole can be considered (which gets you down to six). Finally, take away the time already served on remand (leaving you five years and 108 days).
The process - of asking M'luds if they'd be so kind as to think again - appears painfully slow and ineffective to many politicians. After all, it's three years since the Court of Appeal warned judges that if they failed to pass proper sentences in sexual cases this would "cause public concern and affect the confidence of the public in the system".
So, it is that a politician under fire for failing to protect the public leaps at the chance of turning fire on the courts for - you guessed it - failing to protect the public.
And the public are left wondering what on earth is going on.