Government plans to reform judicial review come from the “same authoritarian playbook” as anti-democratic measures taken by the Hungarian and Polish governments, Labour’s legal spokesmen have argued.
Shadow lord chancellor David Lammy and shadow attorney general Lord Falconer said people should be “just as outraged” at the plans as they have been by a Hungarian law undermining the independence of the country’s judiciary, and a Polish law making it possible for judges to face disciplinary measures for rulings the government does not like.
At the end of July, the government announced Lord Faulks QC as head of an independent panel of experts examining if there is a need to reform the judicial review process.
Given that Lord Faulks is a former Conservative justice minister – although he now sits as a crossbench peer – there have been questions about how independent the review will be.
In an article for The Times, the Labour pair said the Conservatives wanted “to unpick our unwritten constitution to free Tory ministers from checks, balances and scrutiny just when they are needed most”.
What they called a “bare-faced power grab” could stop grieving families from challenging the government’s mistakes over the handling of Covid-19, for example.
“The government’s argument is that when there is a big political row around a decision which is said to be unlawful, the courts should not be allowed to have the final word. They claim this is continuing politics illegitimately in the courts.
“Very often bad decisions are both illegal and provoke a huge political storm. It would be utterly wrong to have a constitution which says that the worse the controversy, the safer from legal challenge a law-breaking minister would be.”
The article stressed the importance of judicial review in ensuring the rule of law and forcing ministers to follow it.
“This government’s response to being thwarted by the courts is to take away their power. Small ‘c’ conservatives, social democrats, socialists and liberals should come together to oppose the government’s attempted power grab. The country will pay a terrible price if we do not stop them.”