Plans to restrict judicial review weaken the rule of law, MPs warn

Plans “restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts”. – What rot – Owl

Proposals to restrict judicial review are an affront to the principles of fairness and government accountability and should be dropped, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has said.

Haroon Siddique 

In a letter to the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, the signatories, including Liberal Democrat, Labour, Green party and Scottish National party MPs, say changes to the way legal challenges against the government can be brought are unjustified.

After a four-week consultation, the government confirmed in the Queen’s speech that it would press ahead with a judicial review bill, legislating to “restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts”.

In their letter to Buckland, the Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, Labour’s Clive Lewis, the SNP’s Joanna Cherry QC, the Green MP Caroline Lucas and 28 others say the proposals “would weaken both individuals and the courts, and effectively put government actions beyond the reach of the law.

“Together, these changes would make it much harder for people to put things right when mistakes are made or governments overstep their bounds. They would undermine the rule of law and the crucial principles of fairness and accountability.”

A judicial review is a court proceeding where a judge examines the lawfulness of an action or a decision of a public body. The review looks at the way a decision has been reached, rather than the rights and wrongs of that decision.

The letter, also signed by Plaid Cymru, Democratic Unionist party and Alliance party MPs, says the changes are based on a “false claim” by the government that a panel led by Lord Faulks QC had found that courts in judicial review cases had become more prone “to edge away from a strictly supervisory jurisdiction”.

Faulks has since said the panel did not identify such a “trend” and “was not ultimately convinced that judicial review needed radical reform”. The Bar Council, Law Society, Constitutional and Administrative Law Association, Liberty, Justice and the Public Law Project have all pointed out this disconnect with Faulks’s review, the letter says.

Wera Hobhouse, the Lib Dem justice spokesperson, who initiated the letter, said: “The government’s proposals to restrict judicial review are another Conservative assault on the rule of law. On top of their crackdown on the right to peaceful protest, they are now trying to limit people’s ability to hold governments to account through the courts.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We made a manifesto commitment to ensure the judicial review process is not open to abuse or delay, or used to conduct politics by another means.

“Our bill – set out in the Queen’s speech – delivers on that pledge and will protect the judiciary from being drawn into political controversies. Its measures will be informed by the responses to our consultation.”