Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill is a significant change and proposes regulating a broad swathe of those most active in public debate. It poses a major threat to freedom of speech and public debate, and must be considered in the most delicate manner. It has already achieved unprecedented cross-party, non-partisan agreement in opposition to its current drafting.
Part 2 of the Bill should be withdrawn and a process undertaken to produce clear, viable legislation that does not pose a major risk to freedom of speech and legitimate public debate. While safeguards for charities are welcome, wide range of organisations that make important contributions to public debate are not charities.
If it the Government has been unable to produce coherent legislation by the second reading, let alone beyond it, then it cannot be prudent for Parliament to attempt to re-draft an entire section of legislation during its passage through Parliament.
Writing in today’s Guardian, Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor who helped introduce the Terrorism Act 2000, has laid bare the increasingly clear case that the police acted unlawfully in detaining David Miranda under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
“The Terrorism Act defines a terrorist as someone “involved in committing preparing or instigating acts of terrorism”. Miranda is plainly not committing or preparing acts of terrorism.”
At stake is not only a procedural check but the fundamental principle of the rule of law – namely, that the state will not use powers granted to it for reasons the democratically elected legislature has not permitted.
The revelations about the Metropolitan Police’s efforts to discredit the family of Steven Lawrence have rightly brought cross-party condemnation. Taken alongside disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the wider questions about the oversight of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are too important to ignore.
As David Davis MP wrote in the Guardian:
“Sadly this is not an isolated example. Back in 2002 the Labour government set out to smear members of the Paddington Survivors Group, an organisation made up of those injured in the rail crash that killed 31 people. When the group’s leader, Pam Warren, dared to criticise Stephen Byers, then transport secretary, muckraking spin doctors quickly went digging for dirt on her political affiliations and even her sexual history.
Government officials have been on the receiving end of these tactics too. Soon after the communications adviser Martin Sixsmith left the Department for Transport over the “good day to bury bad news” scandal, critical stories appeared in the press. Spin doctors even asked journalists to try and extract embarrassing information from Sixsmith’s friends and colleagues.”
This is before you consider that we still have nowhere near got to the bottom of Britain’s involvement in extraordinary rendition, there has yet to be an inquest into the death of Mark Duggan and the revelations about the Serious and Organised Crime Agency failed to act for six years on evidence of large scale hacking of communications by private investigators and legal firms, among others. This follows the scandal of the Hillsborough inquiry and the atrocious behaviour of some officers.
This week, Big Brother Watch submitted our response to the consultation on Judicial Review. In conclusion, we say:
“An overwhelming number of points in the consultation document are anecdotal and unsubstantiated; indeed many are contradicted by official figures. This consultation is absolutely not a document that should be relied upon when embarking on reform of one of our most fundamental legal rights.”
Along with many other organisations, we’ve highlighted the startling lack of evidence in the Ministry of Justice’s consultation document. Anecdotes and unsubstantiated claims are casually deployed to justify reducing the scope of when judicial review applications can be made, but the underlying figures overwhelmingly undermine the department’s claims.
“Secret trials and non-disclosure of evidence are potential characteristics of repressive regimes and undemocratic societies.”
So said Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, and Michael Todd QC, chairman of the Bar Council, in a letter to Government ministers responsible for the Justice and Security Bill on Saturday.
The Bill is now in the Lords for its second reading, and today the Daily Mail has called on the Lords to “halt this draconian plan”.
We wholeheartedly support both statements.
David Cameron has announced plans to build a “leaner, faster” government, by means of a shakeup of the judicial review process. Rather than focusing on creating a system that would hold public decisions to account, the Prime Minister has promised to crack down on “time wasting” caused by the “massive growth industry” in legal challenges to government policy.
The stats speak from themselves: the number of judicial review applications used to challenge a decision by a public body has risen from 160 in 1975 to 11,200 in 2011. However, last year applications were five times more likely to be refused than granted.
The Prime Minister placed reforms to the judicial process at the center of his plans to ensure Britain can compete globally. The proposals include cutting the three month time limit on applying for a review and charging more “so people think twice about time-wasting”, however how much “more” is currently unclear. Currently, a fee of £60 is payable when permission for the application is lodged and a further £215 is payable if permission is granted. Legal costs can then run up to tens of thousands of pounds.
A recent example of a judicial review is the case of the West Coast rail franchise which saw Virgin Rail successfully overturn the Department for Transport decision to award the contract to FirstGroup. Another successful example is the legal challenge launched by Friends of The Earth on the Government’s plans to cut solar tariff incentives.
The Government appear to be missing the point; the process should be about speed and efficiency not making it harder to make a claim. Perhaps, rather than focusing on people and organisations causing unnecessary delays, the Government should be introducing what is currently lacking; proper checks to hold public decisions to account.