Courts may soon be unable to challenge government decisions - here's why

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 11:13 am
Updated Monday, 22nd March 2021, 11:13 am
Judicial review allows the public to challenge government decisions which they believe may be unlawful (Photo: Shutterstock)
Judicial review allows the public to challenge government decisions which they believe may be unlawful (Photo: Shutterstock)

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has announced plans to overhaul the way government decisions are challenged in courts.

Currently, judicial review allows anyone affected by a government or public body decision to apply to the courts to rule whether the decision or action was lawful or unlawful.

Some recent examples of judicial review in action include cases brought against the Government for shutting down Parliament and challenges to its management of Brexit.

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Following an independent review into the relationship between the Government and the courts, Mr Buckland has announced plans to restrict what kind of issues courts could rule on through the judicial review process. Potential changes include a set of rules to determine which issues courts are allowed to rule on and which they are not allowed to rule on.

'The only way the public can challenge the Government when it breaks the law'

Mr Buckland has said the move will "protect" judges from being drawn into politics, striking the "right balance" between the "need for effective government" and public scrutiny.

In an address to MPs, he said that he recognised judicial review as a "vital" and "important" process for keeping power in check. He added, however, that reforms would prevent judges from being caught up in issues beyond their remit.

Labour politician and Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy has criticised the reforms, accusing the Government of trying to put "new limits" on judicial reviews.

He added that the overhaul was an attempt to "trample on values we all hold dear - including fairness, accountability and the rule of law".

"Judicial review is the only mechanism by which members of the public can challenge the government and public bodies when they break the law," he said.

Most judicial review cases don't get very far in the legal process. Out of 3,597 put forward in 2018, just 218 made it to a court hearing. Of the cases that reached court in 2018, the Government won 50 per cent.

One recent case won against the Government was the Supreme Court ruling that Boris Johnson's shutdown of Parliament in August 2019 was unlawful.