29 January 2015
House of Lords Pass Criminal Justice and Courts Bill Amendments
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s Bill includes a number of proposals, one of which is to restrict the criteria in which people can apply for judicial review. The current system allows judges the power to declare decisions made by public bodies invalid if they think they haven’t acted in accordance with their legal obligations.
Under the proposed new law, people will only be allowed to bring a judicial review case if they have a financial interest in its outcome. As the Bill states, applicants should be prevented from bringing a judicial review if the outcome for that individual is ‘highly likely’ to have been the same had the public authority acted properly in the first place. The Government argues that this is to deter the ‘misuse’ of judicial review cases, pointing to charities and pressure groups who have attempted to challenge Government policy on minor technical details.
The Bill is no stranger to parliamentary debate, twice having been rejected by the House of Lords. Amendments to the Bill were introduced after the second reading, including a provision for judges to allow judicial review challenges to proceed if there is an ‘exceptional public interest’. This concession was accepted by the House of Lords this week, meaning that the Bill has now completed its journey through Parliament and awaits a date for Royal Assent before becoming law.
The Government says that the ‘exceptional public interest’ test is a way to prevent taxpayers funding ‘academic’ judicial reviews, with Lord Horam arguing that some judicial reviews are brought only as a “weapon of delay for infrastructure developments”.
Others say the proposed new laws will put judicial review out of reach of all but the wealthy. Lord Pannick QC, who led the initial opposition to the Bill, said this week that "it remains the vital role of judicial review in this country to hold ministers and civil servants to account."
So, judicial review reform is on the way and we wait and see what its effect will be. What might seem to some like a way to save taxpayer’s money will seem to others like a simple transfer of power from the judiciary to Whitehall.
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