After a brief hiatus, the Human Rights Round-up is back. Our new team of expert summarisers – Hannah Lynes, Alex Wessely and Laura Profumo – is installed and ready to administer your regular dose of UK human rights news.
This week, Hannah reports on the Global Law Summit, access to justice, and what’s happening in the courts.
In the News
‘If you wrap yourself in the Magna Carta…you are inevitably going to look ridiculous if you then throw cold water on an important part of its legacy.’ Lord Pannick QC was not alone last week (23-28th February) in suggesting that there was some irony in Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling evoking the spirit of the Magna Carta at his launch of the three-day Global Law Summit.
Magna Carta Uncovered, Hart Publishing, October 2014 – details here
Two old friends, Lord Judge (former Lord Chief Justice) and Anthony Arlidge QC have written a compelling and scholarly account of the 1215 political settlement known as the Magna Carta. This instrument has become something of a missile in the dust-up over the European Convention versus “rights brought home”.
The authors have taken on the task of tracing the way in which the Magna Carta has played a part in political challenges since its inception, critically in 17th century clashes between King and Parliament (think the Five Knights and Ship Money cases and the 1689 Bill of Rights). And the Charter then formed the background for the US Bill of Rights and many constitutional settlements since.
Magna Carta (strictly the first Magna Carta, as others followed in 1216, 1217 and 1225, to similar effect) was “granted” by King John in June 1215. Initial negotiations about the monarch’s relationship with the Church concluded on 23 November 1214 (800 years today) within the Temple in London – our authors are past and current Treasurers of the Middle Temple. The “grant” was not really that. John had been forced to make peace with his rebel barons, and the liberties forced out of the king were unwillingly conferred.
We know or think we know what Magna Carta says. But this book strips off some of the varnish which later thinkers have imposed upon it.
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
North Norfolk District Council v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government,  EWHC 279 (Admin), Robin Purchas QC sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, 14 February 2014 – read judgment
In my last post, I explained how Chris Grayling’s proposed reforms might affect planning and environmental challenges, and, hey presto, within the week, a perfect illustration of one of the points which I was making – with implications for all judicial reviews.
One of the proposals in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (see here) is that a challenge to an unlawful decision should fail if it is highly likely that the outcome for the applicant would not have been substantially different, had the public authority not acted unlawfully. This compares with the current test which is that the decision should be quashed unless it is inevitable that the decision would be the same.
Cue a proposed wind turbine (86.5m to blade tip) to be placed on one of the highest points of Norfolk and affecting the setting of two Grade I listed buildings (Baconsthorpe Hall and Barningham Hall) and a number of Grade II* churches. The Inspector allowed the turbine on appeal from the local planning authority, which decision the judge has now set aside. Continue reading
Sections 50 to 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill and Explanatory Notes; the full Government response is here, 4 February 2014
At first sight, proposals full of sound and fury, and signifying not a great deal for planning and environmental challenges. There are some slippery costs changes which we need to look at, but some of the potentially more concerning proposals (see Adam’s post and the linked posts) do not fully apply to this area, as I shall explain. There are also some perfectly sensible proposals about harmonising planning challenges which lawyers have been advocating for years.
This consultation got going in September 2013 when Grayling put forward his round 2 of reform to judicial review in a wide-ranging, and frankly worrying, consultation paper. This week’s announcement and draft bill seeks to take some of these measures forward, but leaves others at home.
Mercifully, the bill does not include the ill-thought out consultation proposal to reform rules about standing in judicial review – who can complain of unlawful action by government? The proposal had been very worrying to those concerned with environmental challenges. It would have led to the rather unsatisfactory position that a NIMBY complaining about a nearby development would have been able to challenge an unlawful decision, but an entirely altruistic concern about unlawfulness affecting, say, birds, bats or habitats would have been dismissed not on the merits, but because the NGO or individual conservationist had insufficient “interest” in the outcome. See my previous post on 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 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