Last night saw the House of Lords’ first reaction to the Government’s proposed changes to judicial review as the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill had its second reading. Already dissected at some length in this blog, the proposals have been roundly criticised by both the senior judiciary and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Consultations responses, including from JUSTICE, expressed concern that the measures appear, by design or coincidence, to undermine the rule of law, inhibit transparency and shield the Government from judicial scrutiny. Two key concerns arise from the Government proposals: restricting access for individuals without substantial means and limiting the courts’ discretion to do justice in the public interest. Yesterday’s debate was robust and eloquent, with former Law Lords joined by bishops and backbenchers alike to condemn the new measures.
Metaphors were rife. Descriptions of the Government’s proposals ranged from Lord Woolf’s invocation of the image of Governmental wolves among some unlikely judicial sheep, to the titular and topical tennis imagery used with devastating effect by Lord Brown of Eaton –under-Heywood:
“More and more areas of our lives are controlled by public authorities. At the same time we have become understandably, I suggest, less trusting and certainly less deferential towards those with authority over us. I sometimes wonder whether it did not all start with John McEnroe’s outraged questioning of line calls at Wimbledon way back in the 1970s. However, we should consider how in the long run his behaviour has contributed to the hugely improved policing of those lines that is in operation today…By the same token, the use of judicial review has to my mind undoubtedly raised the standards of public decision-making in recent years.” (Col 1591) Continue reading
Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE, summarises the important Joint Committee on Human Rights report “The implications for access to justice of the Government’s proposals to reform judicial review”.
Proposed Government restrictions to judicial review, including new cuts to legal aid, have already been dissected in detail by this blog (see here, here and here). Controversial Government proposals to limit when legally aided claimant solicitors will be paid in judicial review claims came into force last week (Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration)(Amendment)(No 3) Regulations).
Heralding the arrival of the changes, the Lord Chancellor again repeated his now oft-heard refrain that reform is necessary to prevent “legal aid abusers” tarnishing the justice system. Specific restrictions were justified to limit judicial reviews “instigated by pressure groups, designed to force the Government to change its mind over properly taken decisions by democratically elected politicians”.
Today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) publishes its verdict in a lengthy and considered report on the likely impact on access to justice of the cuts and the proposed changes in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. In short, the Committee rejects the case for reform and suggests that the Government go back to the drawing board.
As MPs and Peers consider the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration)(Amendment)(No 3) Regulations and the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE considers the Lord Chancellor’s view that proposed judicial review changes do not restrict access to judicial review remedies or restrict the rule of law.
Tomorrow (Thursday), MPs will consider a series of detailed amendments to the Government’s proposed changes to judicial review in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. The proposed changes to legal aid for judicial review are not up for debate. The Regulations, which will restrict legal aid to only those cases granted permission, are already made and due to come into force on 22 April. There will be no debate on those changes, unless MPs and Peers demand one.
As the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill has its Second Reading in the House of Commons today (Monday 24 February), Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights at JUSTICE considers the Government’s proposals for the future of judicial review.
For law students who slept their way through their first latin 101 lessons in ‘ultra vires’, public law and judicial review may have seemed very detached from the realities of everyday life; less relevant to the man on the Clapham Omnibus than the rigours of a good criminal defence or protection from eviction offered by landlord and tenant law.
The Lord Chancellor may be hoping that the public and Parliamentarians are similarly unfocused.
The Ministry of Justice has published its response to the consultation on the latest round of Judicial Review reforms. The full response is here and the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is here.
In my post on the first draft of the MoJ proposals, I warned to beware of kite flyers, and said:
Sometimes, especially with Government consultations, a kite is raised in order to distract from what is really happening on the ground. As with the last phase of JR reform, the rhetoric is more extreme than the reality.
Without wanting to say “I told you so” (oops), don’t be fooled by the seeming concessions. There is still a lot to be concerned about in what remains, as there was in the last round of changes – as Dr Mark Elliott points out, JR, like the NHS (and Communist Russia), now seems to be in a state of perpetual reform. I do not intend here to analyse the proposals in detail, but I will point you towards some excellent early articles.
Layard Horsfall Ltd v The Legal Ombudsman  EWHC 4137 (QB) – Read judgment
Adam Wagner represented the Legal Ombudsman in this case. He is not the writer of this post
Does the Legal Ombudsman have teeth? That was, in effect, the question before the High Court in Layard Horsfall, a judicial review brought by a former solicitor against a decision by the Ombudsman to reduce his fees following a complaint by one of his clients. The Court’s answer was a very clear yes. Where the Ombudsman has made her decision properly, taking relevant factors into account, it is likely to withstand judicial review challenge.
In this case, the solicitor in question, Mr Horsfall, had been convicted of a count of fraud following an investigation into his involvement in money laundering and had been imprisoned and struck off the roll of solicitors. His prison sentence served, he was now pursuing his former clients through the courts for unpaid invoices. He appeared on behalf of his firm with the court’s permission, arguing that the Ombudsman’s decision to reduce his fees from £5,000 including VAT to £1,500 plus VAT (in a case which had nothing to do with the money laundering allegations) was in excess of jurisdiction and was irrational.
Updated | The relationship between the UK and the European Court remains turbulent and fractious. The Court has been the subject of significant criticism, notably from some politicians and commentators in the UK, relating to its supposed interference in domestic, sovereign questions and the quality of its judges.
Some commentators say that the UK may have to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the court. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky argues that if (as is highly likely) the Council of Europe refuses to institute a “democratic override” for states of European Court of Human Rights decisions, withdrawal should be seriously considered. MP Nick Herbert argues that the UK should withdraw immediately.
Others have proposed withdrawing from the European Convention altogether. For example, in April, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that temporary withdrawal from the Convention was one option being considered by the UK government in its efforts to deport the Islamic cleric Omar Mohammed Othman (also known as Abu Qatada). Two members of the Commission tasked with investigating the creation of a UK Bill of Rights advocated withdrawal from the Convention unless the Court ceased its ‘judicially activist approach’ (p. 182).