Government defends judicial review reforms

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The government has defended its reforms to the judicial review process in England, after Labour warned the changes will have a "chilling" effect on people's rights to hold the state to account.

Justice Minister Shailesh Vara brought forward amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill on 17 June 2014, designed to "reduce the potential of misusing judicial review to hinder and delay lawful decisions, while protecting the rule of law".

Under the plans, judicial review applications would cost more, with less time put aside to apply and fewer chances to appeal, to stem the growth in their number.

Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter claimed the changes amounted to a "full frontal assault" on judicial review, as he set out Labour's opposition to the restrictions.

"The cumulative effect of the proposals in this bill alongside new fees, cuts in legal aid, and shorter time limits, is to hobble the principle method by which the administrative court can prevent unlawful conduct by the state in a way that it, in all its manifestations, makes decisions," he argued.

Mr Vara did not accept his assessment, and stressed that "meritorious" cases would not be affected.

The opposition front bench sought to remove the relevant sections from the bill, through two amendments, but both were defeated, by 64 and 68 votes, respectively.

Conservative MP Bob Neill, a former minister and lawyer, argued that the growth of judicial review has become "an inhibitor to good decision-making", and encouraged a "culture of risk averseness" within government.

Welcoming the changes brought forward, the Bromley and Chislehurst MP said they would bring a "reality check" to the process.

Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert acknowledged that there are some instances when interveners hijack judicial reviews, but said: "I do reject completely the idea that it's only, as I think the justice secretary said, left wing lawyers who bring these cases."

He proposed his own amendment to bring rules for the courts in line with those of the Supreme Court, where the judges are given discretion to impose cost orders if the intervener in essence acted as a main party in the case. However, the amendment was not moved to a vote, and did not pass.

Part two of the debate can be found here.

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