17 October 2013
Lord Neuberger, supreme court president, has warned that the government’s proposals to curb access to judicial reviews are unnecessary and dangerous.
In a lecture hosted by civil rights group Justice, the UK’s most senior judge explained the plans would save only a “pathetically small sum” of money, could prove to be an administrative burden, and – most critically – put Britons in a vulnerable position.
“The courts have no more important function than that of protecting citizens from the abuses and excesses of the executive – central government, local government or other public bodies,” he stated.
Judicial review can be used by citizens to take legal cases against the government if there is a claim that leaders – local or national – have broken the law. Importantly, the process can be used by employees who believe that public bodies have failed to abide by the Public Sector Equality Duty or European Human Rights Convention, for instance. Indeed, following a recent Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) decision on the case of Benkharbouche v Sudan, it has been judged that EU law should take precedence over UK law at tribunals, as the judiciary is a public body.
In his speech – Justice in the Age of Austerity – Lord Neuberger agreed that the government’s claimed intention to discourage weak claims was a good one, but that the proposals set forth by the Coalition are worrying. In fact, the judge’s comments appear to show he shares the same concerns as the Institute of Employment Rights when it comes to the current administration taking moves that result in their opposition potentially being gagged (such as in the Lobbying Bill, and in the somewhat secretive rewrite of guidance for public consultation).
“We must look at any proposed changes with particular care … bearing in mind that the proposed changes come from the very body which is at the receiving end of judicial reviews,” Lord Neuberger highlighted.