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Government publishes Bill designed to limit judicial review

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street.

The Government has today published its plans to shake up judges’ powers and limit the public’s ability to challenge official decisions. The Judicial Review and Courts Bill has been introduced into Parliament. It aims to change the process of judicial review – a mechanism that allows citizens to legally challenge the Government’s decisions. Humanists UK has expressed its concern at the proposals which it says will risk undermining scrutiny and the rights of victims.

Under the proposed reforms, public bodies that are found to have breached the law may not have to correct their unlawful actions swiftly. Judges will be capable of leaving the unlawful conduct, which led to the legal case occurring in the first place, remaining in effect. In 2015 new Government guidance said that non-religious beliefs could be excluded from RE. Three humanist families successfully challenged this. But had these reforms been in place then, it could have meant that the curriculum would not have to change for the particular pupils affected.

The Bill would also restrict the ability of potential refugees to apply for asylum in the UK, even if their case had been handled unlawfully. What’s more, some commentators have warned that this reform could open the way for other  areas of law to be taken outside courts’ supervision. They would be made immune to scrutiny.

The Government’s proposals come after it commissioned an Independent Review of Administrative Law. Humanists UK submitted evidence to support the existing framework of judicial review. The Review rejected the Government’s most extreme idea and cautioned against wholesale reform. Further, more than 200 charities, trades unions, and human rights organisations have joined Humanists UK’s coalition calling for the protection of judicial review and human rights.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: 

‘These plans to erode judicial review will be of great concern to all who support transparent decision-making and justice. If enacted they would amount to a significant blow for accountability and may be a charter for officials to make unlawful decisions. The plans include removing the retrospective effect of legal rulings and suspending the effect of any quashing orders. That might not only allow officials acting unlawfully to do so with impunity. It might also weaken the ability of victims to challenge the injustices they have endured.

‘What’s more, the Government is hinting at the prospect of even more radical reforms later on. This may include taking entire subjects outside the scope of courts’ scrutiny. This sets a dangerous precedent for the rights of ordinary citizens. We strongly urge the Government to reconsider these proposals. Instead it should focus upon strengthening our human rights and access to justice. The ability of ordinary people to challenge official decisions has long been the bedrock of accountability and good governance in our country. These plans risk moving away from this respected tradition and are a cause for great alarm.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the Government’s Bill.

Read the full list of coalition signatories.

Read Humanists UK’s response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on judicial review reform.

Read Humanists UK’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights call for evidence.

Read about Humanists UK’s response to the Government’s Independent Human Rights Act Review.

Read more about our work on human rights and equality.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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