Judicial Review

As US events show, we too must protect the rule of law

Posted by Sam Grant on 09 Nov 2020

Politicians are currently trying to limit our access to judicial review and in doing so will allow the current and any future Government to hide from accountability.

After what seemed like an age, the US presidential election has finally been settled, triggering celebrations around the world. Over the past four years, the Trump administration presented a very open threat to human rights, the rule of law, and ultimately democracy itself.

But while glasses are raised for our trans-Atlantic friends who voted for hope and compassion, this is no time for complacency in the UK. The dangerous intentions of the outgoing American executive loom large on these shores too. The threat to democracy in the UK is still high, and we all need to stay alert.

This Government has plans to change fundamental parts of our democratic system – and this work has started in earnest.

The UK has a long-established system of checks and balances to ensure we can seek justice when we’ve been failed by public bodies. One way is through a type of legal challenge known as ‘judicial review’. But politicians are currently trying to limit our access to judicial review and in doing so will allow the current and any future Government – and public authorities – to hide from accountability for their unlawful actions.

This Government has plans to change fundamental parts of our democratic system – and this work has started in earnest.

A panel has already been set up to examine how to make changes – changes which are unnecessary and which are aimed at limiting our ability to access this vital system of ensuring justice. Any limitations to judicial review will undermine values we all hold dear – fairness, accountability and the rule of law. Liberty, along with many other organisations, has submitted evidence to this panel and you can read our full submission here.

No one should be above the law and our ability to challenge governments in court is essential to keep power in check.

So too is our ability to choose who governs us. But the current Government has also pledged to make it impossible to vote without presenting ID at polling stations – which could stop millions of people from exercising their fundamental rights.

Research from the Electoral Commission shows that 3.5 million people in the UK don’t have access to photo ID. That number increases to 11 million if we’re talking passports or driving licenses. Voter ID plans discriminate against women, trans people, people of colour, young people and older people who are all less likely to have valid identification documents – and will be unable to have their say.

So while the news from US is worth celebrating as the threat to their democratic structures has been voted out of office, moves to fundamentally alter our legal framework and block access to democracy are still underway. We too need to be ready to stand up to power. Now more than ever.

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