In the Media

Judicial review plans prompt parliamentary alarm

PUBLISHED October 20, 2014

A cross-party group of MPs and peers has reiterated its objection to a number of the government's proposed reforms to curb the use of judicial review. 

In a report published today, the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights says the plans go too far in restricting access to court for people to hold the government to account for acting unlawfully.

The committee expresses particular concern about the capping of costs, interveners' costs and the power of the lord chancellor to redefine public interest proceedings.

The reforms are set out in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is set for its report stage in the House of Lords next week.

Dr Hywel Francis MP (pictured), chair of the committee, said the changes will make it more difficult for people to hold the government to account. 

'This is about upholding the rule of law, and we hope the House of Lords will amend the bill in ways we have recommended,' he said. 'This ought to stop the government from making it more difficult for it to be challenged in court.'

The committee recommends amendments to part four of the bill - most notably removing plans to give the lord chancellor power to redefine 'public interest' proceedings.

Other recommendations included taking away the statutory duty on courts to order an intervener to pay costs incurred by other parties except in 'exceptional circumstances'.

Members also propose restoring judicial discretion on costs and allowing courts to make a costs-capping order at any stage - not just in cases in which permission has been granted.

The report adds: 'The government's argument that the taxpayer should not be expected to fund costs protection in unmeritorious cases has an attractive plausibility. 

'However, the practical problem with restricting cost-capping orders to cases in which permission has been granted is that meritorious public interest cases will not be brought because applicants cannot take the risk of exposure to pre-permission costs.'

Lord chancellor Chris Grayling, appearing before the House of Lords constitution committee on Wednesday, said reforms of judicial review were 'necessary, proportionate and dealing with an area that's not working very well'.

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