The government has “stood up for the rule of law” and should be proud of its record, the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC, has argued, in a strongly-worded speech on the last day of the Global Law Summit.
Responding to criticisms that the government’s judicial review reforms undermine the rule of law, Mr Wright said: “Much has been said about this government’s reforms of judicial review.
“I am in no doubt – access to judicial review is a crucial safeguard for the citizen and an indispensable guarantor of good government.
“There are ways in which we have rightly looked to update the rules governing judicial review. It is an inescapable fact that modern governments are subject to challenge in the courts more than ever in our history.
“I do not see reforms which are aimed at tackling unmeritorious challenges as undermining the rule of law. Allowing courts to focus instead on meritorious challenges seems to me entirely in accord with that principle.
“The principles of Magna Carta have never been more relevant – the right to bring your grievance to court, to appeal against an administrative decision, to challenge the legality of a policy which affects you directly.”
Mr Wright went on: “There is a conception I have sometimes heard voiced that the rule of law is a straightjacket against which all governments – and this government in particular – have chafed.
“Certainly it is no part of the rule of law to make the lives of governments easy. Law is a fetter on unconstrained government action. That is as it should be – government constrained by law is one of the great guiding principles of humanity.
“But where you could portray that as a straightjacket, I see strict adherence to the rule of law as a badge of honour. It is not just something we reluctantly accept – it is something we champion at home and abroad.”
Mr Wright described the government reform programme as “all the more praiseworthy” because of the backdrop of austerity and the economic legacy it inherited.
“The fact of the matter is this government has stood up for the rule of law and human rights, nationally and internationally. Quite rightly, it has not been afraid to seek reform where reform is needed, at home or abroad.
“Indeed the Magna Carta was not intended to collect dust for 800 years as the world carried on around it. But this country is a fierce defender of the law, and of the role of the legal profession, with its special duty to justice.
“That is in Britain’s DNA. And it is something we will continue to champion, time and again, across the world – I hope for at least another 800 years.”
Wrapping up the summit, Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, said that unlike other rights, the right to justice was a “positive right” which required the state to “do something”.
He said that “genuine access to justice” was essential if a society was able to maintain the rule of law.
Lord Neuberger described upholding the rule of law as “demanding” and said it “cost money” to have access to justice and to pay good judges. He added that lawyers were also under a duty – to provide their services as “quickly and cheaply” as possible.