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Tag Archive | "Lord Woolf"

Threat of ‘elective dictatorship’


Last week’s blog described justice secretary Chris Grayling’s problems with judicial reviews and his justification for them to be limited. He accused pressure groups of exploiting costly legal procedures to delay legislation, planning permissions and deportation decisions, and said judicial reviews were being used as a tactical tool rather than a vehicle for an individual to right a wrong.

This week he came up painfully against the subject once again. On Monday he suffered a defeat in a key House of Lords vote on his plans to curtail access to judicial review, which would have made it harder to challenge government decisions in court. Peers voted by 247 to 181, a majority of 66, to ensure that the judges keep their discretion over whether they can hear judicial review applications.

It was at report stage of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill that amendment 146 to clause 70 was moved by Lord Pannick. This led to an outstanding debate on a crucial aspect of the constitution. Lord Pannick said that one of the central purposes of judicial review is to identify unlawful conduct by the Government or other public bodies.

Lord Beecham agreed and said: “Part 4 of the Bill proposes even more insidious changes which would narrow the scope of judicial discretion in cases in which the lawfulness of decisions made by the Government themselves, or by public agencies, is challenged through the process of judicial review.” He quoted the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, who has asserted that: “there is no principle more basic to our system of law than the maintenance of the rule of law itself and the constitutional protection afforded by judicial review”.

Lord Deben said: “It is unacceptable if we have a system whereby if the government has acted illegally it can’t be brought to account in the courts. The British defence of freedom is judicial review.”

Former lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, said that the alternative amounted to an ‘elective dictatorship’. “It’s dangerous to go down the line of telling the judges what they have to do,” he told peers.

Baroness Williams of Crosby said: “Let us take pride in what we have been and what we are: one of the few countries in the world where an individual is treated as having the full right to challenge the Government and other forms of the Executive. I conclude by saying that it would be an act of absolute tragedy if we were to allow a law to go through that begins to put in doubt that reputation.”

Peers who voted against the government included the former Conservative cabinet minister John Selwyn-Gummer, who sits as Lord Deben, the former Tory chancellor Lord Howe, and 17 Liberal Democrat peers, including the former party leader, Lord Steel, and Baroness Williams.

Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, responding to the government defeat, said: “This is a humiliating slapdown for the government. These changes would have weakened judicial review, and would have placed the government above the law.

The Bar Council, which represents barristers, the Law Society, representing solicitors, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) in England and Wales are all opposed the proposed changes and supported the amendments.

Grayling later suffered a second defeat. Peers voted 228 to 195, a majority of 33, over the issue of requiring applicants for judicial review to provide information on the financing of the application. He is likely to try to overturn the defeats when the criminal justice and courts bill returns to the House of Commons. The proximity of the general election could put this in doubt.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Criminal JusticeComments (0)

Three wins for the government on the legal aid bill


The House of Lords concluded report stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill with three votes on Tuesday. The session on this fifth day went on until past midnight.

Lord Beecham (Labour) moved an amendment on referral fees. He said: “The amendment deals with the position of not-for-profit organisations. We are entirely at one with the Government in seeking to ban referral fees made to commercial organisations simply for the purpose of making profits. However, some organisations – be they charities or membership organisations – receive referral fees from firms of solicitors and perhaps from others…whose contributions help those organisations carry out their main purpose.” Read the full story

Posted in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Law Updates, Legal AidComments (0)


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