Judicial review: Labour query independence of government probe

Current and former members of the Supreme Court

Labour has questioned the independence of a government probe into how its decisions are challenged in the courts, after a former Conservative minister was chosen to head the process.

Lord Faulks will chair a panel looking into potential reforms to the existing system of judicial review.

Senior Conservatives have long argued it is abused for political ends.

But shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the probe was a “blatant attempt to disempower the public”.

Judicial review is a procedure that allows anyone who has been affected by a decision or failure to act by a public authority to apply to the courts to rule whether its actions were lawful or not.

The most high profile case of recent times was anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to Boris Johnson’s attempt to suspend Parliament for five weeks last autumn.

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The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the controversial move was unlawful and overturned it.

In 2017, Ms Miller was similarly successful in challenging former prime minister Theresa May’s government over the need for parliamentary approval of the Article 50 process for leaving the EU.

Mr Johnson has argued that the courts are increasingly being dragged into political matters which should be the preserve of ministers and Parliament.

In their election manifesto, the Conservatives vowed to look into whether the existing system was fit for purpose as part of a wider examination of the relationship between the executive, legislature and judiciary.

‘Precious check’

The Ministry of Justice said the much narrower review announced on Friday would look at potential reforms to ensure the “right balance” is struck between citizens’ rights and effective governance.

It will examine whether the terms of judicial review should be enshrined in law, whether certain decisions taken by government should not be open to challenge and which remedies should be available to the courts when they find against the executive.

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Gina Miller has been at the forefront of recent judicial reviews of government decisions over Brexit

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “Judicial review will always be an essential part of our democratic constitution – protecting citizens from an overbearing state.

“This review will ensure this precious check on government power is maintained, while making sure the process is not abused or used to conduct politics by another means.”

But Labour said the choice of Lord Faulks, a QC and crossbench peer who was a justice minister between 2013 and 2016, to chair the panel raised “serious questions” over its independence.

Mr Lammy said: “The judicial review process is how the public can use the courts to hold the government to account when it acts against the law.

“The Ministry of Justice should be concentrating on getting the courts open safely during the pandemic. This is a blatant attempt to disempower the public and hoard more power in Number 10.”

The rest of the panel is made up of prominent lawyers and academics.

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