Justice secretary Chris Grayling has been defeated in the House of Lords over plans to limit the ability of individuals and organisations to challenge public decisions in the courts, just days after the legal profession claimed it would have a ‘chilling effect’ on those seeking justice.
Three amendments were made to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which yesterday (27 October) went through report stage in the house. One of the changes saw peers vote to uphold legal discretion over holding judicial reviews. Crossbencher and Blackstone Chambers’ Lord Pannick QC noted that judicial review is a ‘vital means by which central and local government and other public bodies can be held to account to ensure the legality of their actions before independent judges in public’. Lord Woolf said it was a ‘worrying piece of legislation’ and ‘it is dangerous to go down the line of telling the judges what they have got to do’ while Lord Irvine added that judicial review is ‘indispensable’ in a democracy.
The government also lost over changes to cost rules applying to interveners and requirements for applicants to disclose financial information.
It follows the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) last week calling for peers in a combined statement to reject such restrictions in the House of Lords, claiming it is ‘an attack on judicial review’.
Bar Council chairman, Nicholas Lavender QC, said: ‘If a government department or local authority did something you thought was unlawful, like stop your business from trading, close your mother’s care home or relocate your child’s school, what would you do? Judicial review is an important tool to stop dodgy decision-making by public authorities. It is fundamental to our system of justice and the rule of law that members of the public, including the weakest and most vulnerable, have an effective means of scrutinising and checking executive power.’
The move also follows a High Court decision in September that the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling acted ‘unlawfully’ over his failure to disclose the contents of two key reports during the consultation process to overhaul criminal legal aid.