Andy Slaughter, the shadow justice minister, has promised that if Labour wins the general election in May it will “restore judicial review to its rightful place in the constitution and as an effective weapon against bad governance”.
His promise came as the judicial review curbs contained in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill comfortably passed a further ‘ping pong’ debate in the Commons last night, after what Mr Slaughter described as two “nugatory” government concessions.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling mocked Mr Slaughter’s promise: “It was interesting to hear the shadow minister say that if, heaven help this country, Labour finds itself in government in May, it would restore judicial review to its current position.
“I did not hear him commit to introducing primary legislation to reverse our measure.
“I would wager the usual fiver that, in the unhappy event of the Labour party being in government again, it will not seek to reverse our reforms.”
Introducing two amendments, Mr Grayling said the government proposed to put a limit on the level of contributions to judicial reviews which would trigger the requirement to identify those involved.
The justice secretary said the government had committed to a consultation on where the threshold should be set, and would approach the issue “with a suggested figure of £1,500 in mind”. It would also consider a further test of 5% of all funds.
Mr Grayling said the government had also agreed that judges could allow a judicial review to continue, even though it was “highly likely” that the outcome would not have been substantially different for the claimant without the disputed decision, on the basis of “exceptional public interest”.
The minister had earlier apologised to the House for “mixing up my highly likelies and my exceptional circumstances”.
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said he remained “unpersuaded” that the government’s ‘exceptional public interest’ amendment would not “excessively fetter judicial discretion”. As a result he could not support it.
Former solicitor general and Conservative MP Edward Garnier asked the government to “have another think” on the issue and accused Mr Grayling of “banging of his head against the wall”.
The justice secretary replied: “I do not accept that I am banging my head against the wall. I think we have struck a sensible balance.
“We have seen important development projects delayed by judicial reviews brought on technicalities. It is important that judicial review not be used as a tool for delay, rather than a genuine way of holding public bodies to account.”
The government amendments were passed by comfortable majorities of 300 to 232 and 301 to 227.
The bill will now return to the House of Lords, but since this is the second time during the ‘ping pong’ stage that the Commons has overturned amendments made by peers intended to restore judicial discretion, the upper house may be reluctant to try again.