Chris Grayling announced further measures to stop pressure groups using individuals as “financial human shields” in judicial reviews, at the second reading of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill on Monday. Following the debate, the House agreed to pass the legislation without the need for a vote.
Judicial review represented “a crucial check on public bodies”, Grayling told MPs.”However, I am concerned about time and money being wasted in dealing with unmeritorious cases which are often brought simply to generate publicity or to delay implementation of a decision that has been made properly,” he said; adding that “a significant proportion” of weak applications were “funded by the taxpayer”
According to the government, the Bill would allow for more JRs to “leapfrog from the court of first instance to the Supreme Court”; change the costs rules “so that all parties have an interest in ensuring that unnecessary costs are not racked up”; limit the use of protective costs orders to “exceptional cases with a clear public interest”; and to ensure that details of anyone financially backing a judicial review are disclosed to the court and make third parties as interveners responsible “for paying their own way”.
“My real concern is when pressure groups use individuals as financial human shields in cases that the groups wish to bring. They find someone who has no financial means, and use them to challenge the Government, and whether or not they win, the Government—that is, taxpayers—are guaranteed to have to pay the bill. The taxpayer will have to foot the bill because there is no prospect of recovering the costs from the individual who is fronting the case. That is what I am seeking to change.”
The government claims its Criminal Justice and Courts Bill would deliver “a firm but fair package of sentencing and criminal law reforms” that properly punished serious and repeat offenders and better protected the public; reduced the cost of courts by making criminals pay towards the cost of their court cases; put “education at the heart of youth custody”; and modernised the law “to tackle the influence of the internet on trials by jury to ensure defendants receive a fair trial, reflecting how technology and the wealth of information available at the touch of a button has changed the way we live”.
Anyone convicted of a crime would be required to pay a charge of up to £600 under plans to force offenders to contribute towards the court cost. “I do not believe it is right that at a time when public finances are tight, the taxpayer continues to shoulder such a heavy burden for the cost of the criminal courts,” Grayling said. “In my view, the burden should be shared with those who are responsible for giving rise to the costs in the first place—the criminals themselves.” The justice secretary hopes the proposals will raise up to £80 million.
Desperate to impress
Opposition lawyer MPs launched a series of personal attacks on Grayling. Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith, called it “quite a mean little Bill, reflecting the character of its author”. “It further limits the rights of the citizen against the state, and it scratches around to find some more savings because the Treasury has been overpromised. Desperate to impress the Prime Minister, this is the best that the Secretary of State could come up with,” he said.
Sadiq Khan, shadow justice secretary attacked the Bill as having “come from nowhere” and being rushed out “towards the dreg ends of this parliamentary session”. “So what is going on?” he asked. “With 15 months to go until the general election, experienced heads around Parliament say that it has never been so quiet. We know the old saying that the devil makes work for idle hands…. Nature abhors a vacuum; so too does Parliament.” Khan suggested that David Cameron “had probably sent out a desperate memo” pleading with Cabinet colleagues to bring forward “legislation—any legislation—to fill the pitiful gap in parliamentary schedules and to keep Tory Back Benchers happy and busy”. “Who was the only willing and eager star pupil to respond? Who was as keen as mustard to be top of the class? Yes, it was the Justice Secretary.”
Karl Turner, Labour MP for Hull East and a barrister, called the Bill “a wasted opportunity”. “It makes no mention of victims, of probation, of legal aid, of women in the justice system or of ethnic minorities. The Government have missed an opportunity, especially in relation to important issues like the huge changes to criminal legal aid that the Lord Chancellor is about to announce,” he said; adding that the “entire legal profession” was “completely against the Lord Chancellor’s views and the Government’s proposals”. “On 7 March, criminal solicitors and barristers will be taking a day of industrial action. I think that the solicitors are describing it as a training day, in order to get round certain issues,” he said. “The Government could have used the Bill to debate those important changes properly.”