Justice Minister, Chris Grayling has come out with his strongest attack yet, on the right to seek judicial review of government decisions.
In an outburst in which he shows no understanding of the workings of campaign groups he accuses them of pursuing cases by using ‘human shields’. That is a phrase that we associate with some of the most extreme dictators of recent years and should never appear in any discussion on people’s rights.
What he means is that a group brings an action in the name of an individual and then ‘rows in behind them’. If the case fails then there is no costs liability to the organization.
Does he think that such groups pursue claims for their own benefit?
I assume that he has in mind the action taken by ten disabled people to challenge the impact of the Bedroom Tax. This was supported by the leading housing charity Shelter which gave evidence –
Or maybe even the action taken by the Countryside Alliance in 2004 against the fox hunting ban –
Actions taken by political leaders normally affect a significant group of citizens. A campaigning organization supports that group and brings an action on their behalf. This avoids the need for thousands of separate actions. Shelter would not gain anything from the Bedroom Tax case. The only winners would have been the disabled tenants.
Judicial Review exists as a remedy in to ensure that the executive acts within the law. It has played a huge role in protecting the ordinary citizen against political excesses. It is not popular with politicians. Former Labour Home Secretary, David Blunkett famously threatened to curb the power of judges –
Distaste for judicial scrutiny crosses political lines. This is why Judicial Review is so important. It is not a question of judges overruling parliament. Courts cannot overrule legislation - apart from limited cases involving Europe. But ministers still have to act within their powers. If those powers are abused and people’s rights are affected then they must have an unfettered remedy to seek a judicial review.
Mr. Grayling goes on to limit human rights concerns to North Korea. On the assumption that this must be an April Fool I will resist further comment.