Administrative and public law

Government concedes accountability counts

In a victory for anyone who challenges the might of the state in the courts, the government made an important concession to protect the rights of individuals in the final stage of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill in Parliament, after sustained lobbying by the Law Society of England and Wales.

Provisions in the bill that would have dictated to judges what remedies they could award to victims of unlawful state actions have been dropped by the government.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “Judicial review is an essential check on power which ensures the public can hold government to account.

“If the state is found by an independent court to have done something wrong it’s important the judge has discretion to make good in a way that fits the specifics of the case.

“The draft legislation would have stacked the odds against people taking public bodies to court from the start.

“However, the government has accepted a Lords amendment which throws out restrictions on the remedies judges can award – referred to as a ‘presumption’ in favour of certain remedies over others – which would have advantaged the state at the expense of anyone challenging it.

“With the government’s concession, people who are the victim of an unlawful state action will continue to be able to seek justice on a level playing field.

“I am pleased that the government has listened to experts in this area of law and heeded our call to remove the presumption from the Bill. This would have severely curtailed judges’ discretion.

“Suspended quashing orders – which allow the court to give public bodies time to put things right before an unlawful act is formally quashed – are welcome. It’s good news they will be available to judges and that judges will be able to choose when to use them.”

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