The Independent View: Judicial review changes would advance state powers at expense of individual freedom

In its 2010 Manifesto, the Liberal Democrats pledged to ‘restore and protect hard-won British liberties’.  The Government’s consultation on judicial review, which closed this week, could result in a radical shift of power from individuals to the state. If this happens, the legal system and the people who depend on it for fair treatment will be weaker for it.

Plans from the Ministry of Justice to introduce serious restrictions on access to judicial review will make it much harder for people to challenge the execution of public power on behalf of an individual citizen.

The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has argued that judicial review should not be a ‘promotional tool for countless Left-wing campaigners’. It isn’t; it is the last tool with which the public can hold power to account and with which our liberty can be ensured against arms of the state.

Only last week, five disabled people used a judicial review to challenge the proposed abolition of the Independent Living Fund, forcing ministers to reconsider their decision.

And they are far from alone in turning to judicial review. The newspaper industry called for a judicial review on press regulation proposals. Entrepreneurs and the owners of small businesses frequently use judicial review as a way to challenge anti-competitive unlawful behaviour and community groups can protect areas or services or local value. The Countryside Alliance and the British Beer and Pub Association have also used it to challenge decisions.

Preserving democratic rights maintained in part by people having the power to use judicial review against unfair actions by the Government is fundamental to universal fair treatment under the law.

So it is a curious place in which the Government finds itself on this issue: two parties which subscribe to a philosophy of individual freedom are in danger of advancing unchecked state powers and heavy-handed government.

If the proposed changes to judicial review go through, our advisers will no longer be able to help our clients access justice by questioning decisions made by politicians and civil servants. Our client Howard, suffering from a serious lung condition, had the safety net of judicial review to force a reassessment of a council decision which could have left him homeless. Rita and her critically ill baby would have continued to be passed around between three different local authorities without the judicial review that forced one to fulfil their responsibilities and stop passing the buck.

If people lose the ability to use judicial review, more and more people will suffer injustice, with faith in the political system and our institutions declining further.

The right to challenge the Government is one that should be upheld as paramount. Lord McNally wrote in these pages that the Liberal Democrats are a ‘party which cares deeply about civil liberties’. Is it worth dismantling one of the pillars that sustains these civil liberties for a potential saving of £1-3 million? That, in my mind, is highly doubtful.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Gillian Guy is the Chief Executive of Citizens' Advice. (Picture: Copyright Ian Enness)

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • Melanie Harvey 14th Nov '13 - 4:29pm

    Summmary Judgements need to be put under the spotlight too!

  • A fantastic article, but the problem is, this has not got anything to do with savings as Grayling’s comments show. This is an idealistic battle. The Tories put themselves forward as defenders of freedom until people disagree with them. The courts often disagree with them, so they this is about silencing the courts and continual dissent against the Government. If the court’s kept in line and just constantly fell on the side of the Government, you can bet that these ‘savings’ would not even be under consideration. It is just the fact that the Tories do not care about savings, they just wish to ensure their very mad whim goes unchallenged.

    That being said, the fact one of the Liberal Democrat’s minister is complicit in this does not say much for us.

  • Neil Bradbury 15th Nov '13 - 10:00am

    Lord McNally doesn’t strike me as much of a Liberal. Gillian Guy nails this one – we should not be restricting the right to review decisions.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Nov '13 - 4:48pm

    As a one-time ‘victor’ in a Judicial Review which I brought a couple of decades ago against the then Chairman of the North West Regional Health Authority for failing to respect the rights of the Preston Community Health Council (and myself along the way), I am deeply concerned at the way that this is only one small part of the movement to make private (civil) Justice and public law justice increasingly only available for the very rich.

    The Chair of the NWRHA and his minions gaily threw away £20,000 of NHS money in their attempts to defeat me in an attempt to justify their unjustifiable misconduct. Essentially, they decided that they were big and we were small so they were right and could do whatever they liked – including spending substantial sums of state money to try to cover their own derriers and bludgeon us into submission. You will not that this same general attitude persists today, notably in people who give their mates (and people like their mates) massive pay-offs whether it be at the BBC or in the NHS or in local councils.

    Once upon a time we could trust the Liberal Democrats to stand up for the rights of the little man and woman. I would vry much like to believe we still can.

  • Steve Comer 16th Nov '13 - 1:36am

    Lets not carried away with the idea that Judicial review is always used for the right reasons. In Bristol a small minority are using this procedure to try to thwart a planning permission for a supermarket on the cite of the Memorial Stadium, used by Bristol Rovers FC and Bristol Rugby. This JR application (submitted just before the deadline) is holding up much needed regeneration and millions of pounds worth of investment in the local economy. Who do we think should be making planning decisions? Elected Councillors or unelected judges?
    Most of Bristol want to see our football teams in modern stadiums, but one was held up by this JR, and the other by a Town Green application. Changes in the law should help to stop the abuse of the town green laws, and we need to put an end to the JR industry too. Its too easy to mount a spurious JR with the aim of delaying progress on projects that will be of benefit to the majority.

  • Steve, if Judges can the power to make the decisions, one could agree with you; they do not.

    They can only ensure due process has been followed when the decision maker makes the decision. That is a basic right.

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