Risks to judicial review - The Sunday Times

20 October 2014

Dear Sirs,

A key principle of the Rule of Law is that nobody is beyond legal reproach, including
the Government, yet Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, reaching
report stage in the Lords this week, will allow the Government to put itself,
if not above the law, a little further from its grasp. This Bill will restrict
access to judicial review to everyone, particularly the poorest and most
vulnerable in society, and we ask you to amend it in response to widespread
concern about its potential effects.

Judicial review is the mechanism individuals can use to challenge government and public authorities when they make unlawful decisions. It has been used to stop
governments from imprisoning people without charge, closing care homes and
moving schools, and granting or denying planning permission incorrectly. To
anyone bearing the brunt of an unlawful government decision, financial
restrictions introduced by the Bill mean justice will not be served.

The Bill will also restrict experts, including charities and NGOs, from legitimately lending their expertise to the courts to aid good law making, even when they have the
express permission of judges. The impact of these changes will be to immunise
the Government, and other public authorities, against effective legal
challenge. This will be hugely damaging to the rule of law in our country and
to the reputation of our system of justice internationally. 

We urge Peers to vote in favour of amendments to Part 4 of the Bill tabled by the Lords
Pannick, Woolf, Carlile and Beecham which will maintain judicial review as a
legal keystone of our democracy. Next year we will be celebrating the 800 year
anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, a seminal point in our history
that marked the establishment of the rule of law. The rule of law demands that
government decision-making be subject to legal challenge. For government itself
to restrict the terms of those challenges threatens the separation of powers on
which our constitution is based.

Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman, Bar Council

Andrew Caplen,
President, Law Society

Frances Edwards, President, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives