David Cameron and Chris Grayling have been messing with the justice system again. This time, according to The Telegraph, they are planning to make it “tougher” for judicial reviews to be brought to court, to stop the process being “abused” by pressure groups and campaigners.
There’s a lot of Telegraph-speak in that first paragraph, as the Tory-supporting newspaper was working desperately to make governmental perversion of justice acceptable. What this actually means is that Cameron wants to make it impossible for organisations that are capable of mounting legal opposition to unreasonable Conservative/Coalition policies ever to do so.
The only people able to seek judicial reviews of government policy would be individuals who are directly affected – and the government is hoping that these mostly poor people would be unable to afford the cost, thanks to changes in Legal Aid that mean it could not be claimed for welfare or employment cases.
You see how this works? With those changes to Legal Aid and the possibility of wholesale privatisation of the entire court system, where justice was once open to everyone, it will soon be a privilege available only to the wealthiest in the UK.
To Cameron, and his crony Grayling, justice isn’t for you. In fact, it won’t be for anyone. The UK will be about money and power, just as Michael Meacher stated in his recent blog article.
So, for example: The ‘Poundland’ case, which The Guardian reported was to be heard in the Supreme Court yesterday (Monday). The original judicial review was launched in the names of Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson, who were both directly affected – but were both unemployed and penniless, and therefore could not afford to take the case to court on their own. Their case was brought with the aid of Public Interest Lawyers – who would most likely be barred from taking part, being considered a pressure group with no direct interest in the matter.
The original case resulted in the government taking the unusual – and highly suspect (in legal terms) – step of passing an emergency retroactive law to legalise its employment schemes, after the tribunal ruled that all of the Coalition’s schemes were acting illegally and opened the government up to a potential £130 million worth of claims for wrongfully-withheld benefits.
PIL has now started a second judicial review – on the retrospective law – claiming it undermines its clients’ right to justice and violates article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under the new procedures this, too, would be inadmissible.
On the same lines, the judicial review that ruled (in May) that the test used to decide whether people are fit for work actively discriminates against the mentally ill, brought by the Black Triangle Campaign with the charities MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, would also be inadmissible.
So we have examples in which it is clearly in the interests of justice for new laws to be challenged – but which would be blocked outright under Cameron and Grayling’s plan.
According to The Telegraph, “Ministers plan to change the test for applying for a review so that only people with a direct link to policies or decision can challenge it, rather than anyone with a ‘sufficient interest.’
“The concerns echo those of the Prime Minister who previously said the judicial review process was slowing the country’s economic growth as well.”
In fairness, the paper adds: “There are fears that changing the judicial review process could lead to government decisions going unchecked, and charities have also raised concerns about not being able to use the process to challenge decisions and ensure the government is meeting its obligations.”
Meanwhile, Unison has been given leave to launch a judicial review of the introduction of fees for workers seeking employment tribunals.
The BBC reported that people wanting to bring tribunals must now pay a fee for the first time since they were created in the 1960s. It will cost £160 to lodge a claim for matters such as unpaid invoices, with a further charge of £230 if it goes ahead.
More serious claims, such as for unfair dismissal, would cost £250 to lodge, and a further £950 if the case goes ahead.
The plan here is clearly to make it impossible for an unfairly-sacked worker to take a firm to judicial review; how many poorly-paid working class people (and remember, wages have fallen by nine per cent since the credit crunch) have twelve hundred quid knocking around in their back pockets?
“The introduction of punitive fees for taking a claim to an employment tribunal would give the green light to unscrupulous employers to ride roughshod over already basic workers’ rights,” Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told the BBC.
“We believe that these fees are unfair and should be dropped.”
The judicial review will take place in October. Considering Lord Judge’s recent change of heart over privatisation of the courts, it’s a safe bet that by then the government will have ‘persuaded’ any judges hearing the case to support the new charges.
As Mr Meacher wrote: David Cameron’s instincts are “that there is no such thing as the rule of law, and that the only things that ultimately matter are power, fear and money”.