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Monday, 9 September 2013

Judicial Review - public protection or left wing propaganda?

Judicial Review has been a cornerstone of our legal system for many years. It is the means by which actions and decisions of the executive can be subject to scrutiny by the courts. 

If they are found to be unlawful then they can be set aside or changed.

The procedure has been used in countless cases including decisions of the NHS on healthcare, subjecting tenants to the risk of eviction via the bedroom tax and decisions to refuse legal aid. I once took a case for a victim of medical negligence over NHS proposals for investment of his damages. It is something which has never enjoyed great popularity with ministers.

The government is now proposing to severely restrict access to Judicial Review. In a consultation on ‘reform’ there are plans to increase the cost, restrict the rights to oral hearings and to impose stricter time limits. Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling has said that the aim is speed up the process which can take up large amounts of judicial time.

But according to the Daily Mail he is intent on blocking the actions of what he calls – ‘countless Left-wing campaigners.’

He refers specifically to an action brought by APIL in relation to plans to drastically cut the amounts of legal costs that victims of accidents can recover from insurers. I blogged on that at the time –

APIL represents those lawyers who pursue claims on behalf of victims both of accidents and medical negligence. They are certainly not 'left wing campaigners' by any stretch of the imagination. In fact back in 2004 the Countryside alliance brought a Judicial Review action to stop the ban on fox hunting –

I’m sure they would love being identified with the left!

The rhetoric used by the Minister suggests that the real agenda is to stop actions that they don't like. If that is the case then this is a dangerous example of the law and procedure being changed to block accountability.

The reality is that citizens have long enjoyed this right to ask the courts to review decisions by public bodies. This is an important check in a modern democracy. I have gone on and on over the last year or so about the erosion of the rights of ordinary people. But this could be one of the most serious of all.

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