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Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2021

The Bill had its Second Reading in this House on 26 October. As the hon. Lady knows, it is now in Committee—she is part of that Committee. The Bill fixes inefficient processes that cause delay in our justice system and gives judges more flexibility to resolve judicial reviews in a practical way. The Secretary of State discusses these matters with Cabinet colleagues, and we are confident that the package of reforms in the Bill is proportionate and effective.

Judicial independence is under threat across Europe, so given the Minister’s recent chilling comments that the UK Parliament should correct decisions of the judiciary that Ministers disagree with, can he see the concerns that this raises for the principle of the separation of powers? How can the UK credibly join other countries who threaten the independence of judges?

We have been debating these matters at length. The Bill is a very good one. It strengthens judicial review in relation to quashing orders with the new remedies. Far from what the hon. Lady said, those new remedies—for example, being able to suspend a quashing order—will bring great benefit to our constituents and support better public administration.

The Bill has a whole chapter on coroners yet entirely neglects the key issue of giving bereaved families a fair hearing at inquests. Victims’ families have no right to legal aid, even when many state institutions are represented at public expense. At one inquest, 18 public bodies were represented but families had to fight to be heard. Will the Minister commit, now, to non-means-tested funding for bereaved families when the state is represented, and table amendments to the Bill to achieve that?

I am pleased to confirm to the House that we are currently drafting the measures that will ensure that we remove the means test on exceptional case funding for such matters. Furthermore, I can confirm that the changes should be implemented early next year.

There has been much gnashing of teeth in the past week over MPs who breach standards and their right to appeal—natural justice, I think they call it. Why, then, do the Government propose to remove a vital last line of defence for ordinary people by removing Cart and Eba-type judicial reviews—the type used by the most vulnerable and the least powerful?

We have just debated this issue at great length in the Bill Committee and I understand that the hon. Lady feels strongly about it but, as we have explained, in those cases there are—we keep using this phrase—three bites at the cherry, whereas in almost all other areas of law there are only two, so the Bill is fair in that sense.

I am bound to say that it is incumbent on the Government to look at resource. When we have a backlog like we have, we have to ask whether using up 180 days of court time for cases that have a tiny chance of success is the best use of that resource. We have a backlog of very serious cases to deal with; that is our Government’s priority and where we are focused.

We have just spent a considerable amount of time arguing about that issue in Committee, so let me turn to another part of the Bill. The presumption in favour of prospective quashing orders will mean that this Government will be able to treat ordinary people unlawfully, safe in the knowledge that even if the courts say they have done so, there will be no redress or compensation, and there will even be time for the Government to change the law so that the unlawful thing becomes lawful. I wonder what it is about the wealthy, powerful friends of this Government that makes their right to so-called natural justice so much more compelling than the right of the ordinary man or woman on the street.

The hon. Lady knows that that is a wholly erroneous interpretation of the presumption clause, which is there simply to ensure that we expedite the accumulation of jurisprudence.