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.