Public spending cuts must not undermine the justice system, the Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland has warned.
A non-ministerial department should be created to oversee the courts and tribunals service, Sir Declan Morgan added. This would preserve the independence of the judiciary from political interference.
He opened the legal year at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast with the entire public service facing deep spending cuts.
"One must examine the justice system as a whole to ensure that efficiencies introduced at one end of the system do not lead to costs at another end," he said.
"Any efficiencies or cuts must be implemented in a thoughtful and appropriate way so as not to undermine the system of justice."
He said a department in charge of the courts could be governed by a board chaired by the lord chief justice or his nominee.
"I am strongly of the view that this approach would best preserve the independence of the judiciary from the Executive while allowing for appropriate accountability for the resources given to the courts," he added.
At present the Justice Department is led by David Ford. The non-ministerial model has already been adopted in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.
The senior judge said one of the arrangement's strengths was that it provides a clear mechanism for ensuring the necessary resources are provided for the courts.
He has held two meetings with Mr Ford following last April's devolution of justice powers to Stormont.