For those who welcomed last week’s concessions on criminal legal aid, the Lord Chancellor’s offensive on Judicial Review the following day was a bitter blow for British justice. Judicial Review is the ultimate protection for ordinary people against arbitrary power; holding government to certain standards of rationality and lawfulness and demanding respect for individual rights. Now the Ministry of Justice seems determined to crush challenges before they have even begun and undermine this bulwark against state abuse.
The impact of cuts to access to justice was the hot topic at Liberty’s “Justice Denied” Fringe Event at the TUC Conference in Bournemouth this afternoon. Nothing was off the table – from changing the rules on unfair dismissal to closing the doors of the Employment Tribunal; from placing civil justice beyond the means of many to preventing us from holding the powerful to account by moving the goalposts on Judicial Review.
For many months now – ever since the Ministry of Justice first embarked upon its misconceived crusade to cut legal aid and decimate access to justice in this country – we and others have been urging Chris Grayling to think again. Digesting the Lord Chancellor’s statement in the House of Commons this morning, it seems he may have listened.
Effective fair trial protections are a cornerstone of a just society which values dignity and fairness. When people face criminal prosecution they risk loss of reputation, livelihood and often liberty upon their conviction. With so much at stake, fair trial safeguards are non-negotiable. Without them innocent people are convicted, the Rule of Law suffers and public faith in our justice system breaks down.
If you’ve been the victim of a human rights abuse – if you’ve been imprisoned without trial or had your private life violated – you probably don’t need convincing that our freedoms should be formally protected by law. But here in the oldest unbroken democracy in the world, where many of us have the luxury of treating human rights as abstract ideals, we can sometimes forget that they were born from all-too-real suffering and injustice.
Fifty years ago today Dr Martin Luther King laid out his vision for a better future in front of hundreds of thousands of civil rights demonstrators. His ‘I have a dream’ speech still stands as one of the greatest ever calls for freedom and justice and his message remains strikingly relevant.