UK Government urged to rethink plans for judicial review to ‘protect world’s poorest people’
A joint response to the UK Government’s consultation on plans to restrict charities’ ability to bring cases to judicial review has called for the Government to abandon the proposals.
Advocates for International Development (A4ID), the charity that brings together the development and legal sectors, and Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB), the UK’s leading charity law firm, joint response states that “the basis for reforms is unsound”.
In Judicial Review: Proposals for Further Reform, the UK Government made proposals to restrict the use of judicial review as “a campaigning tool” by tightening rules on the interest that an individual must have in a decision before being entitled to bring a case for judicial review against it. Currently, individuals are able to bring cases to judicial review if they do not have a direct personal interest in the outcome where they are able to demonstrate that there is a general public interest. The Government has made proposals to change this in order to “exclude persons who [have] only a political or theoretical interest, such as campaigning groups.”
The joint response from A4ID and BWB states that such a move would “misunderstand that the purpose of judicial review is to address matters of public interest, not redress private wrongs” and that it would mean that Government decisions where no individual in the UK was directly affected would be completely exempt from judicial scrutiny. As a charity that works with NGOs from across the development sector, whose work is mostly affected by UK Government decisions impacting exclusively on people overseas, A4ID is particularly concerned that such a move would remove judicial oversight on decisions impacting on the world’s poorest people.
The response also calls for reversals in plans to make it harder to bring cases against so-called ‘procedural defects’ and to increase costs for claimants who bring cases to judicial review.
In summing up the joint response states:
“Judicial review is the practical expression of the fundamental constitutional tenet that executive organs should be subject to judicial oversight to ensure the lawfulness of their actions. The reforms that the government proposes represent a significant restriction on the ability of the judiciary to perform this function by removing certain decisions from the remit of the courts…”
Yasmin Batliwala, Chief Executive of A4ID said:
“The UK is rightfully proud of its record as one of the world’s leading donor countries and has demonstrated how decisions taken in Whitehall can have a profound impact on the lives of the world’s poorest people. The proposal to remove this vital judicial check on the power of the executive, to diminish civil society’s ability to lobby in the interest of people overseas and give ministers and government agencies the ability to act with impunity stems from a mistaken premise and should be dropped.”