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Tory judicial reform ‘leaves government all but untouchable’

Alarm over bid to remove accountability for ministerial decisions as experts say proposals will leave ordinary people powerless

THE Tories’ judicial reform proposals are part of a bid to make the government “untouchable,” civil rights campaigners have warned. 

The new Judicial Review and Courts Bill, introduced to Parliament today, could make it more difficult for ordinary people to hold the government to account, campaigners and lawyers say.

Full details of the Bill are yet to be published, but measures revealed so far include limiting the scope of judicial reviews and allowing the High Court to suspend the effects of quashing orders and limit their retrospective effects. 

According to the government’s own statement, this would mean that a judge could “delay the point at which a government action will be overturned.”

Liberty policy and campaigns officer Charlie Whelton said: “This Bill is part of this government’s bid to make itself – and all future governments – untouchable. Being able to challenge those in power when they get things wrong is at the heart of our democracy.

“Our laws and legal processes allow ordinary people to challenge governments and public authorities for this very reason. 

“They are vital in protecting our rights and freedoms and in some cases have literally saved lives. From what the government has announced so far we know this Bill poses a threat to these well-established mechanisms, and could make it harder for people to stand up to power.”

The Bill also proposes an end to Cart judicial reviews, in which parties in immigration & asylum cases who have been refused permission to appeal by both the first tier and upper tribunals can bring a judicial review case before the High Court. 

The Ministry of Justice claims the practice is inefficient, creates unnecessary delays and has a success rate of just 3 per cent, compared to 40-50 per cent for all other cases, costing the taxpayer £300,000 a year.

But the Public Law Project (PLP) disputed the figures and said it was difficult to see what evidence the reforms are based on. 

PLP director Jo Hickman said: “Nobody is quite sure of the problem the government is trying to fix, or why the pressing need to do so now. From what we have seen so far it looks like the reforms will weaken, rather than reinforce, government accountability.”
Throughout the government’s consultation on judicial reform, evidence to substantiate proposals had been non-existent, misleading or hidden from view, Ms Hickman said. 

Earlier research conducted on behalf of the government stated that Cart judicial review success rates were even lower, at 0.22 per cent. The figure was later contested by the Office for Statistics Regulation, which said it had been over-simplified.

Ms Hickman also raised concerns that the removal of Cart judicial reviews could pave the way for future legislation to “immunise the government from accountability for acting unlawfully.”

Liberty’s Ms Whelton continued: “It appears that, based on faulty statistical reasoning, this Bill proposes to remove a vital safeguard that protects marginalised people, especially migrants, from mistakes being made by public bodies which could have a catastrophic impact on their lives.”

I. Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, also warned against the reforms, saying they should “ring alarm bells for people who come up against the might of the state.” 

Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy said it was wrong for the government to “put itself above the law by limiting where courts can hold the government to account.”

Announcing the Bill, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “The government has pledged to ensure that the courts are not open to abuse and delay. …

“We are giving judges the powers they need to ensure the government is held to account, while tackling those who seek to frustrate the court process.”


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