Former Tory justice minister to head independent review of role of judges in politics

·3-min read
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A former Conservative justice minister will head a major review into the role of judges in politics.  

Lord Faulks, who is currently chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), will head an expert panel to examine if judicial reviews need to be reformed.  

It follows concerns by Boris Johnson and other ministers that courts are becoming increasingly politicised and being used to “conduct politics by another means” after judicial reviews were successfully used to overturn his decision to prorogue Parliament last year.  

The Prime Minister wants to define in law what judicial reviews can and cannot be used to challenge.  

Mr Faulks, who is the elder brother of novelist Sebastian Faulks, said the six-strong panel would “examine Judicial Review and the need to strike a balance between the right of citizens to challenge government through the courts and the elected government's right to govern."  

Lord Faulks sits as an unaffiliated peer in the House of Lords. He quit as a Justice Minister after Liz Truss became the third consecutive non-lawyer to be made Lord Chancellor.  

He said at the time that although he “nothing against Ms Truss personally,” he felt the appointment of another non-lawyer put the justice system at risk at a time of cost-cutting.   

“Is she going to have the clout able to stand up to the prime minister when necessary on behalf of the judges?” he asked at the time.  

“Is she going to be able to stand up, come the moment, to the prime minister, for the rule of law and for the judiciary…without fear of damaging her career?”  

The Conservative Party's last manifesto promised to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission by December to examine “in depth” issues ranging from judicial reviews to the Human Rights Act.  

However, instead, Mr Johnson has decided to speed up the process on priority issues like judicial reviews by setting up small, highly expert panels to deal with each element individually.

The panel is expected to report in about four months.  

Announcing the panel, Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, said it would address whether the terms of judicial review should be written into law and whether certain executive decisions should be decided on by judges.  

It would also consider which grounds and remedies should be available in claims brought against the government and any further procedural reforms to judicial review, such as timings and the appeal process.

Mr Buckland said:  “This review will ensure this precious check on government power is maintained, while making sure the process is not abused or used to conduct politics by another means.”  

The Tory manifesto said that judicial review would remain “available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or create needless delays”.

Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has been an outspoken critic of the judicial review process, reportedly saying there had to be “urgent action on the farce that judicial review has become”.  

In a past internet blog, he said judicial reviews, which date back to the 16th century, were a “great blessing” when they were introduced, but he now believes the courts have overstepped the mark.  

The other panel members are : Carol Harlow, QC, emeritus professor of law at LSE,  Alan Page, Professor of Public Law,  Nick McBride, a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge, Celina Colquhoun, an expert in planning and environmental law, and  Vikram Sachdeva QC, a practising advocate in major cases.  

Amanda Pinto, chair of the Bar Council, cautioned: “We should regard [judicial review] as a prized possession because it enables citizens to hold the state to account effectively and to ensure that it uses fair procedures every day.   

“Without it, the rule of law and separation of powers will be undermined and, without them, we may as well wave goodbye to a functioning democracy.”

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