For the sake of fairness and justice, let's hope the Lords stay strong
Last night’s short debate on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill in the House of Commons was an immense disappointment. Despite the fact that parliamentarians have been discussing proposed changes to Judicial Review for over ten months, the Lord Chancellor once again demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the way it works. He repeated insulting and long discredited accusations that organisations bringing challenges use individuals as “human shields”. He complained that Judicial Review deals with “minor technicalities”. He huffed that “Judicial Review was never intended to put the courts above the elected Government”.
Those who benefit from Judicial Review are individuals in care, victims of police brutality, groups concerned with issues as diverse as HS2, fox-hunting and hospital closures. As pointed out by Labour MP Frank Dobson, Judicial Review deals with “minor technicalities” only in the sense that all law is a technicality - “the law is full of technicalities—that is all it is”. To the ordinary people concerned, Judicial Reviews and the matters on which they bring them are far more than technicalities. They are hugely important - and sometimes life-changing.
And for the Lord Chancellor to think that judicial review puts the courts above the Government is clearly wrong. It puts the law above government, in exactly the same way that the law is above everybody else. It ensures that public authorities can be held to account for their actions.
The votes were even more of a let-down. All three of the Lords’ amendments last month were rejected by the House of Commons, and a Government amendment on interveners – which makes the Bill even worse than it was to begin with – was also passed.
The Bill will return to the House of Lords next week. Peers will now have to decide how to respond to the contemptuous way in which the Government has dealt with cross-party attempts at compromise. For the sake of fairness and justice, we hope that they will stay strong.