Administrative and public law

Judicial review reform plans would have chilling effect on justice

Judicial review is an essential part of our justice system which keeps government accountable, the Law Society of England and Wales said after giving evidence to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill committee in parliament.

“Our primary concern is that changes are being proposed which make life easier for government at the expense of accountability and justice,” Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said.

“Today, if any one of us successfully challenges the government in an independent court then the government must make good.

“This helps make sure the government acts within the laws created by parliament and holds it publicly accountable where it fails.

“Judicial review allows government decisions to be overturned where they are not within the law, which encourages government and public bodies to make good decisions.”

So-called prospective-only remedies are proposed, which would lead to judgments that would apply only in the future, leaving past wrongs to stand. The Law Society strongly opposes these. A statutory presumption in favour of these future-only remedies – which puts legal limits on when judges could make an alternative judgment that would right a past wrong – would further entrench the injustice of these changes.

I. Stephanie Boyce said: “One of the changes the government wants to make is to push judges towards rulings that would leave people who suffered because of unlawful state actions without full redress. This is plainly wrong and would have a chilling effect on justice.

“Individuals and businesses should have confidence that where public bodies breach the law or infringe on legal rights they will be able to enforce their rights and secure redress.

“We support the introduction of suspended quashing orders, which would allow a judge to give the state time to make necessary arrangements before their decision takes effect. However, this should only be at judges’ discretion and not, as is proposed, the norm which could only be deviated from in prescribed circumstances.

“All in all, the ultimate consequence of these proposals would be that more unlawful actions by public bodies could go unchallenged or untouched. The root purpose of judicial review – to ensure good, lawful decision-making by public authorities – would be lost, undermining this vital check against executive overreach.”

Notes to editors

Read our parliamentary briefing on the Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Watch the evidence session

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