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Calls to reject restrictions on judicial review

1st Nov 2014

Lawyers have joined forces to urge peers to reject restrictions on judicial review which could make it harder to challenge government decisions.

This week the criminal justice and courts bill goes before the House of Lords, but lawyers claim ‘it will have a chilling effect’ on those looking for justice.

Condemnation of Ministry of Justice plans was also expressed by the three main legal professions in England and Wales, in a joint statement they released. The Bar Council and the Law Society, which represent barristers and solicitors respectively, as well as the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, are all opposed to the changes in judicial review.

The plans for reform are an attempt to prevent what David Cameron believes are unnecessary delays – the Prime Minister originally blamed judicial review claims for a postponement of commercial planning developments. However, the increase in judicial review cases over the last decade is actually due to an increase in asylum and immigration cases, and not planning objections.

Critics are claiming that Part 4 of the bill would only allow wealthy people access to judicial review, would leave charities and similar organisations liable for costs, and will effectively ‘shield public bodies from proper scrutiny when they act unlawfully’.

Recently, parliament’s joint committee on human rights also expressed their criticism of the proposed bill, stating that by ‘restricting the availability of cost-capping orders’, those wishing to bring attention to, and challenge, matters that would affect the general public, might be discouraged.

The joint statement from the main legal professions highlighted the importance of the judicial review system in ensuring that all members of the public have the opportunity to keep executive power in check, and together believe that the restrictions on judicial review would ‘make it easier for public bodies to act without regard for the law’ in important areas, directly affecting the general public.

In response to the criticism, Shailesh Vara, justice minister, brought to attention the fact that in recent years, there has been a ‘huge surge’ in judicial review cases, and that many are ‘weak or ill-founded’ but can still be expensive. Vara wants the new bill to ensure the review system is used in the right way, for the right people.