Unjustified judicial review reforms restrict access to justice

JUSTICE welcomes a Report published today, by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (“JCHR”) – an influential cross-party Committee of MPs and Peers – which concludes that the Government’s proposals to reform judicial review and limit legal aid for public law challenges may be incompatible with access to justice and endanger the rule of law.

The Report emphasises the important constitutional function of judicial review and concludes that the Government case for reform is not made.

The Committee highlights efforts by the Lord Chancellor to cast judicial review as an abused political tool. The Committee rejects this premise entirely, together with the Government claim that judicial review claims have grown massively. Statistics show that ordinary judicial review numbers have remained broadly static.

JUSTICE welcomes the robust conclusions of the JCHR. We consider that the latest package of reforms – found in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill and the latest civil legal aid regulations – are ill-evidenced and unnecessary.

We regret that the changes to legal aid for judicial review – in force since 22 April 2014 – will render administrative justice out of bounds for all but those with deep pockets. Other changes would restrict the discretion of domestic courts to protect claimants from deterrent costs in public interest litigation.

Andrea Coomber, Director, JUSTICE, said:

“Judicial review is one of the very few means we can challenge public bodies and Government departments which act unlawfully. We should all be watchdogs when the Government tries to rewrite the rules in its favour.

Pressing ahead with these changes will shield Government – big and small – from scrutiny, will deprive individuals without means of an often much-needed remedy and will undermine the rule of law. MPs and Peers must act now. The ballot box should not be the only realistic remedy for unlawful public action.”

In today’s Telegraph, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Chair of JUSTICE Council writes:

“Judicial review sees people seek redress for unlawful Government action. Proposals which may limit access should be treated with caution. Parliament, not Government, must determine whether these changes are justified. The cross-party consensus emerging suggests that the Government needs to go back to the drawing board lest it cause lasting constitutional harm.”

Read the full JUSTICE Press Release.

An edited version of the Baroness Kennedy’s letter appears in today’s Telegraph. Or read the  full letter here

Read a summary of the JCHR Report, prepared by our Director of Human Rights Policy, Angela Patrick, for the UK Human Rights Blog, here.

Read JUSTICE’s full briefing on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill and on the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration)(Amendment)(No 3) Regulations.