According to the President of the Supreme Court, the judiciary not only has a right but an obligation “to speak out on matters concerning the rule of law.” In recent months, it is a duty from which Lord Neuberger has not shirked, and last night’s lecture to the Institute of Government was no exception. Its focus was the importance of legal aid, which Neuberger described through the prism of the UK’s constitutional set-up and the respective roles of the legislature, executive and judiciary within it.
This is not the first time that the UK’s most senior judge has intervened in the debate surrounding the Transforming Legal Aid consultation, which closed on 4 June. Back in March, he warned that proposals intended to save £350 million a year by 2015 could end up costing the Government more, with greater numbers of litigants appearing in court without legal assistance, and longer hearings.
145 barristers on the Attorney General’s Panel of Counsel have signed a letter seeking that the Government to rethink its plans for reform of Legal Aid. I was one of the signatories. The letter is reproduced on the Legal Aid Changes blog.
The letter relates specifically to Judicial Review, which is an area in which Panel counsel practise regularly. Here is a taster:
We consider that the proposals in the Consultation Paper will undermine the accountability of public bodies to the detriment of society as a whole and the vulnerable in particular. Those who are reliant on legal aid are most likely to be at the sharp end of the exercise of government power and are least likely to be able to fund judicial review for themselves, or effectively act in person.
Crinion v. IG Markets  EWCA (Civ) 587 read judgment
and R (o.t.a. Mustafa) v. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator, Queen Mary College Interested Party  EWHC 1379 (Admin) read judgment
A judge hears a case and accepts one party’s version. That party provides a convincing closing speech (in a Word document) which the judge lifts, makes some modifications, and circulates as his judgment.
What is wrong with that? Put it another way, does the judge have to re-invent the wheel by paraphrasing the arguments of the parties?
What is wrong is the appearance that the judge has not really engaged with the arguments of the losing party – as the Court of Appeal emphatically pointed out in their judgment.
My second case reminds us what happens when students do this.
What is the test the Court should apply in deciding whether an application is ‘totally without merit’? The question is prompted by the Lord Chancellor’s announcement on 23 April 2013 that he will press ahead with plans to reform judicial review procedure to target ‘weak, frivolous and unmeritorious cases’. A key change will be to give judges of the Administrative Court, when refusing permission to apply for judicial review on the papers, the power to certify a claim as ‘totally without merit’ (TWM), thus depriving the claimant of the right to renew the application before the court at an oral hearing.
This power is one that is already exercisable by judges when refusing applications for permission to appeal on the papers under Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) r. 52.3(4A), the effect of which is to prevent the appellant from renewing the application orally. However, it is better known – or, at least, more widely used – in the context of the courts’ jurisdiction to make ‘civil restraint orders’ under CPR 3.11. Indeed, the Administrative Court has had power to certify an application as TWM for the purposes of making a ‘civil restraint order’ since those rules were introduced in 2004 (see R (Kumar) v Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs  1 WLR 536). Although no statistics are currently available for this use of the power to certify a claim as TWM, according to Lynne Knapman, Head of the Administrative Court Office, these are now being collated for applications made since the beginning of 2013.
The Supreme Court has produced a rather excellent short YouTube video about what it does. Look out for interviews with Justices, a funky 3D representation of the UK court system, a bit of court action and of course, cheesy muzak.
Regular readers will know I am a big fan of the Supreme Court’s efforts to be accessible to the public, which stand in stark contrast to the almost non-existent efforts of the rest of the UK justice system. You can find an article about the video by the court’s Chief Executive here and one reviewing the court’s innovations here.
The Ministry of Justice has released its response to the comments generated by the consultation paper on judicial review that was published in December. Unsurprisingly, the Government has signalled that it intends to press ahead with most of the proposals upon which it consulted. In particular, it plans to implement the following proposals:
- Time limits The time limit for judicial review (which at three months is already very short) will be reduced to six weeks in planning cases and thirty days in procurement cases. The Government recognizes that these timescales are so short that compliance with the Pre-Action Protocol will be impossible, so it will invite the judiciary to disapply the Protocol in such cases. Given that one of the objectives of the Pre-Action Protocol is to encourage pre-litigious resolution of disputes, it is not clear how this will promote the Government’s objective of reducing recourse to litigation.
- Oral renewal of applications certified as “totally without merit” Continue reading
Max Hastings greeted the new Supreme Court with the prediction that it was a “constitutional disaster in the making.” For Hastings this was Blair’s Court, Blair’s legacy; its creation just one more example of Labour’s wrecking of ancient British institutions. Of course, there was also positive coverage in the early days in papers like the Guardian and Times, but ideally the Court needed to get its own message about itself. How has it gone about doing this? And what has it been saying? What challenges has it faced in its first three years?
This blog (a shortened version of an article out this month in Public Law) looks at the Court’s innovative approach to getting the message out not only about what it is doing in cases, but also about its role in general. It is a topic covered recently by Adam Wagner, here. At the heart of the Public Law article is the idea that the Court is quietly asserting its role as a new and powerful constitutional actor. Its communication’s operation has been at the heart of this.
The Constitutional and Administrative Bar Association (ALBA) hosted an invigorating debate on Tuesday night, pitting Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke against Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, over the question of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) in civil claims, as proposed in the Justice and Security Bill.
The Bill is currently going through the parliamentary process, having reached the report stage in the House of Commons on 4 March 2013. Of particular note to those with an interest in human rights are the proposals to introduce CMPs into civil damages actions, where allegations such as complicity in torture by the UK intelligence agencies are made.
In a rare public intervention Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court, has flagged three important issues that should be of concern to us all.
Firstly, Lord Neuberger has quite rightly criticised the cuts to the Legal Aid budget. Denying litigants a chance to go to court will create ‘frustration and a lack of confidence in the system’, or people will be tempted to ‘take the law into their own hands.’ Lord Neuberger observed that “as one of the three remaining articles of the Magna Carta (1297) says “to no man shall we deny justice”, nowadays “to no man and no woman shall we deny justice”, and we are at risk of going back on that.’
Baroness Helena Kennedy has argued that judges have a tendency to clone themselves when choosing successors. It is hard to avoid that impression in the Supreme Court, which kept its white male first eleven in place yesterday by appointing three new justices: Lord Justice Hughes, Lord Justice Toulson and Lord Hodge. The sole woman amongst 12 justices of our highest appeal court remains Lady Hale. There are no black or Asian judges, not have there ever been.
How did this happen? The answer is we don’t know and won’t ever find out. Around two thirds of the Supreme Court’s case load are public law and human rights, decisions which affect millions of people. Yet appointments are made by an opaque commission consisting of senior judges.
Piper v. Hales, HHJ Simon Brown QC, 18 January 2013 read judgment
Two types of readers may be interested in this case; the first, who are interested in the age-old judging problem of whom to believe when faced with a conflict of evidence, and the second (and I don’t want to do any gender-stereotyping) those who are fascinated in whether a replica Porsche 917 (think Steve McQueen in Le Mans) over-revved and blew because (a) it had a gearbox fault or (b) the Defendant driver missed a gear.
I will disappoint the second set of readers – but the judgment is short and well-written, so, chaps, read it for yourselves to find out why the gearbox was acquitted of all charges laid against it.
The UK Supreme Court has today launched a YouTube channel showing short summaries of judgments. The summaries are read out by justices when a judgment is released. There are already ten online and more will be uploaded each time a judgment is released.
Since its launch in 2009, the UK’s new Supreme Court has been doing rather well at online access to justice. Its website is clear and elegant, it publishes excellent press summaries at the same time as judgments, it was the first supreme court to join Twitter (@uksupremecourt now has over 27,000 followers) and its hearings can be watched live online thanks to a partnership with Sky News.
Judgment summaries are a good start. Without wanting to sound ungrateful, what would really be useful is to be able to access recordings of full hearings on YouTube, as is provided on the superb Brazilian Supremo Tribunal Federal YouTube channel. Continue reading
Oakes and others v R  EWCA Crim 2435 – read judgment
The imposition of whole life orders for extremely serious crimes does not violate the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3.
Until relatively recently, the Secretary of State decided the minimum term to be served by a “lifer” – a defendant who subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment. This is now a matter for the sentencing judge whose jurisdiction is conferred by the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. Schedule 21 para 4 allows judges to order a whole life minimum term, a jurisdiction of last resort in cases of exceptional criminality.
It was submitted in these conjoined appeals that this provision contravenes Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Not so, said the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division.
For justice to be seen to be done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses. They must be clearly written so that a reasonably well informed member of the public can understand what is being decided. But they must also be available to the public, and in this sense their accessibility depends on their being reported.
Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, so stated in the first BAILII annual lecture, hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP at their premises in Fleet Street last night. The full speech can be read here.
The Prime Minister is to “get a grip” on people forcing unnecessary delays to Government policy by cracking down on the “massive growth industry” of Judicial Review. David Cameron told business leaders today:
“When this country was at war in the 40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution. … everything was thrown at ‘the overriding purpose’ of beating Hitler. … this country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ – and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.”
The detail of the changes is yet to be revealed (update – more detail is now available on the Ministry of Justice website, including the promise of a public consultation), but the PM plans to ” reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews – so people think twice about time-wasting.”
Clearly some of the PM’s Dunkirk spirit rhetoric is aimed at cheering up business leaders, who need a lot of that at the moment. But putting the rhetoric aside, there is cause for concern here.