Consideration of Lords amendments
[Relevant document: Tenth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Judicial Review and Courts Bill, HC 884.]
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendment 11. If it is agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal. Before I call the Minister, I ask hon. Members to indicate whether they want to contribute to the debate, because not many have put in.
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 2, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 5, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) to the words so restored to the Bill.
Lords amendment 11, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 4, 6 to 10 and 12 to 22.
I begin by discussing some of the key changes made to the Bill in the other place as a result of amendments brought forward by the Government and I will then turn to the other Lords amendments. Since we last debated the Bill, further measures have been added by the Government with unanimous support from the other place.
First, Lords amendment 7 seeks to give greater flexibility to the online procedure rule committee when it comes to establishing standards relating to dispute resolution conducted online before court proceedings are initiated. It will enable parties who tried to resolve their dispute online prior to commencing legal proceedings, but who do not resolve some or all of their dispute, to then transfer into the legal process seamlessly.
Secondly, Lords amendment 10 will allow coroners to provide registrars with additional information to help to ensure that deaths do not go unregistered. It will address an anomaly whereby, in a small number of cases, families do not register a death when coroners authorise the disposal of a body before any formal death registration has been completed.
Finally, Lords amendment 12 will allow pro bono cost orders to be made in tribunals in much the same way as they are already available in the civil and family courts. It captures the majority of tribunals in which cost orders might be made, but it also creates a power for the Lord Chancellor to bring additional tribunals within the scope of the power through secondary legislation. I urge hon. Members to support those amendments.
A series of minor and technical amendments were also made to the Bill by the Government. I do not intend to go through them in detail, but if any hon. Member has a question about them, I will endeavour to address it in my response to the debate. [Interruption.] I shall expect a flood!
I now turn to the amendments that the Government did not bring forward in the other place. Lords amendment 4 removed the presumption, which provided that a court would have to use the new quashing order powers if they offered adequate redress and there was no good reason not to do so. Lords amendments 1 to 3 remove prospective quashing orders from the Bill.
The courts have several duties with regards to judicial review. They have a duty to individuals who may have been adversely affected by a decision or action, a duty to Parliament to review whether a decision was taken in accordance with the process and procedures set down by the law, and a duty to respect their own limitations and not review the merit of a policy decision or artificially constrain a decision maker’s discretion. They also have wider duties to justice, fairness and the public interest. On many occasions, these duties align and the best outcome for a case is clear, but on other occasions these duties can conflict with the result that the nuance of the circumstances can be lost in the bluntness of the remedy.
The new powers brought forward in this Bill, as introduced, would allow the courts to respond flexibly. As such, I was disappointed that the other place voted, albeit narrowly, to remove the power for quashing orders to be made with limited or no retrospective effect, and I do not need to speak hypothetically. In Canada, another common law country, prospective remedies have been used for some decades to good effect. They have been used, for example, to help vulnerable people maintain important workplace protections that would have ceased to exist had a quashing order applied retrospectively.
Turning to the presumption, I can be brief. The Government do not accept the argument that the presumption fetters discretion or is in some way dangerous. Its purpose is to precipitate the rapid accumulation of jurisprudence on the use of these new powers. In furthering that purpose, however, we have heard persuasive arguments that it is in fact unnecessary. I am reassured, particularly by the learned former members of the judiciary who contributed to the debates in the other place, that judges will use these powers and consider their use regularly without the need for the presumption. Consistency and predictability for their use are further fostered by the list of factors in clause 1(8). I can therefore confirm that the Government will not be bringing back the presumption.
Lords amendment 5 replaced the ouster clause used to remove so-called Cart judicial reviews with a measure that would only prevent such challenges reaching the Court of Appeal, preserving the route of challenge from the upper tribunal to the High Court. I am very grateful to the other place for bringing forward this suggestion, and while I appreciate the sentiment behind such a compromise position, the Government cannot accept this as a meaningful solution to the problems we have set out. While it would tackle some of the resource question, it does nothing to reduce the burden on the High Court or upper tribunal—approximately 180 judge sitting days per year—which is where the burden mainly falls. It also does not tackle the current anomaly of a further challenge to a permission to appeal decision after that application has been rejected by both a lower and a senior court—what has come to be called in this debate, “three bites at the cherry”. The Government propose to bring back the original ouster clause, along with a technical amendment on the Northern Ireland carve-out, to ensure its terminology is consistent with other provisions.
Finally, Lords amendment 11 seeks to provide legal aid for representation for bereaved people at all inquests where public bodies—for example, the police or an NHS trust—are legally represented. While the Government are sympathetic to the intentions of those in the other place, I am afraid I do have concerns about this amendment. As drafted, this amendment would make access to legal aid in these circumstances automatic, removing the means and merits tests, and leading to significant and open-ended costs to the taxpayer. This would go against the principle of targeting legal aid at those who need it most by allowing funding for those who could comfortably afford the cost themselves.
I am very grateful to the hon. Members for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) for meeting me several times to discuss this issue, including with colleagues in the other place. I have assured them that the Government are continuing to make changes to help ensure that bereaved families are truly placed at the heart of the inquest process. Aside from our recent removal of the means test for successful applications for representation through the exceptional case funding scheme, we are also proposing to remove the means test for legal help in relation to any inquests where there is a potential human rights breach or significant wider public interest as part of the means test review that is currently out for consultation. These changes will genuinely help them navigate the inquest process, where appropriate, and I urge hon. Members to await the outcome of this consultation before pursuing further legislation on this issue.
I am grateful to the Members of this House for all their scrutiny of the Bill so far, and I hope today we can accept the changes proposed by the Government on the amendment paper. Even if there remain some small disagreements between us, I am sure all hon. Members here today would like to see this Bill reach Royal Assent, particularly as it contains a number of important court recovery measures. I therefore urge hon. Members to accept the compromises the Government have made, and allow the Bill to finish its passage through both Houses as quickly as possible.
I thank those who have worked to improve this Bill during its progress through both Houses. Without embarrassing him, I would single out my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), who volunteered to lead on the courts part of this Bill—that is, most of it—before he had even finished with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I would also mention the efforts of our colleagues in the other place, particularly my noble Friends Lord Ponsonby and Baroness Chapman and senior Cross Benchers, who are a large part of the reason why we are discussing successful Lords amendments today—all credit to them.
In the spirit of consensus that has been a feature of much of our proceedings, I thank the Minister and his team for at least listening and entertaining our views, even if we did not in the end see eye to eye, and for their significant concession in removing the presumption from clause 1. Since the Bill was first introduced, I have also been lucky enough to work with many individuals and organisations with particular expertise on the issues covered. I would like to put on record my thanks to the Public Law Project, Inquest, Justice, Liberty, the Bingham Centre, the Law Society and the Bar Council, but that list is not exhaustive.
The majority of amendments before the House today—Lords amendments 6 to 10 and 12 to 22—are Government amendments that amend part 2 of the Bill. For the avoidance of doubt, we do not oppose these. We had issues with part 2 of the Bill, but these were mainly procedural and are, I hope, open to correction in the light of experience. Our objections to part 1 are more fundamental, and we are grateful to the other place for highlighting these in Lords amendments 1 to 5. I will deal with these and then come on separately to Lords amendment 11.
First, by way of a little context, we see no purpose whatsoever in clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill, and it would be our preference to remove these clauses from the Bill entirely. Our attempts to do so in Committee were not successful, but our principal objections were reflected in the Lords amendments. Lords amendments 1 to 3, in the name of the noble Lord Marks, remove prospective-only quashing orders from the Bill.
One of the ways that the Government wish to change—they say improve—judicial review is to introduce a remedy that only rights a wrong for the future, without looking to compensate the complainant or those who have come before them. This has rightly been described as having a chilling effect on meritorious applications. It was not recommended by the independent review of administrative law that was supposed to found the basis of part 1 of the Bill. It does not, as the Government somewhat disingenuously claim, add to the armoury of the administrative court; it simply seeks to restrain its powers. That fact is given away by the clunking fist of the presumption in favour of prospective orders and of suspended orders, which clause 1 also sought to introduce. In a step bordering on the disrespectful, the Minister sought to tie the hands of the court in applying its discretionary powers, so I am delighted the Government have seen the light and do not today oppose Lords amendment 4, in the name of Lord Anderson. That extracts the worst of the sting in clause 1.
Lords amendment 5, in the name of Lord Etherton, was a pragmatic attempt to make sense of the Government’s proposal to abolish Cart judicial reviews in clause 2 of the Bill. It met both the Government’s complaint that these were too profligate and the real concerns of practitioners and others that errors of law would lead to human tragedies. It would also have mitigated the concerns about unnecessary and unwelcome employment of an ouster clause. Cart judicial review, as Members here know, is engaged when the High Court reviews a decision of the upper tribunal to refuse permission to appeal a decision of the first-tier tribunal.
Clause 2 abolishes this type of judicial review altogether, yet most cases that satisfy the threshold for Cart are compelling. In many examples, as we discussed in Committee, these are asylum or human rights cases—issues of mental health, special educational needs or entitlement to basic incomes and support needs—which have serious consequences for the claimants if errors of law have been made and are sometimes matters of life and death. Lords amendment 5 narrows the ambit of Cart so that in the majority of cases there is no onward right of appeal. The only exception would be where the case raises a point of law of general public importance. In that situation, the claimant could apply to have the case considered by the Supreme Court.
The amendment represents a compromise between the Government’s desire to save the cost of Cart judicial reviews and the need to preserve an essential judicial check against serious errors of law. All that has been argued in the other place, and votes won—albeit narrowly—on amendments 1 and 5. In discussions, the Government have conceded on the presumption. We accept that that is a significant concession, and we do not intend to press any votes on the Lords amendments clauses 1 and 2 today.
Let me turn to Lords amendment 11. Eleven days ago, on 15 April, we marked the 33rd anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, where 97 people lost their lives at a football game. For 33 years the families of those who were lost have fought, and continue to fight, for justice. They faced cover-ups and fundamental failures of our legal system, which only prolonged their suffering. Many campaigners—prominent among them the Mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region, former colleagues of ours in this place—are asking for a comprehensive Hillsborough law, which we support. Lords amendment 11 addresses an important plank of the Hillsborough law, but it goes beyond that by providing equality of arms for all bereaved families at inquests and inquiries.
The amendment would require the Government to provide public funding for bereaved families where the state is represented. It is remarkable that, even with the cuts in legal aid that we have seen over the past 10 years, current rules do not provide that. This is an issue not just of access to justice, but of basic fairness. How can it be that state bodies have unlimited access to public funding for the best legal teams and experts, while families are often forced to pay large sums towards legal costs, or risk representing themselves or resorting to crowdfunding?
Five years have passed since Bishop James Jones delivered his report on the experience of the Hillsborough families. In that report, Bishop Jones made 25 recommendations, which included publicly funded legal representation for bereaved families. In May 2021, the Justice Committee recommended that for all inquests where public authorities are legally represented, non-means-tested legal aid or other public funding for legal representation should be available for people who have been bereaved. The inquiry by the all-party group on legal aid last year reached a similar view, and many voices are saying the same thing: it is time to level the playing field when state actors are represented in inquests.
The Government have acknowledged that there is more to do on this issue. They are minded to offer non-means-tested legal aid for early advice and representation where exceptional case funding is engaged. With respect, that is not enough. It would not help—to give only some examples—in the situations of families of those who suffer healthcare-related deaths in detention, self-inflicted deaths of voluntary patients in mental health settings, those under the direct care of a mental health trusts in the community, deaths in supported accommodation, or care settings where the person has been placed by a public body or local authority. It would not have helped Coco Rose Bradford, a six-year-old girl with autism who was taken to hospital in Cornwall and died unexpectedly on 31 July 2017. In January 2022, the inquest into her death concluded, finding it to be due to natural causes—something Coco’s family disputes. Coco’s mother, Rachel Bradford, told the inquest how she watched her daughter die in front of her, and how the hospital dismissed the family’s concerns, even though Coco was in glaringly obvious pain. Rachel gave evidence that Coco’s autism played a role in how she was treated by medical staff, and that the professionals wrongly viewed her as being unco-operative and non-compliant.
Members of the local community donated to contribute towards the family’s legal costs for the inquest. Coco’s mother said in a personal statement:
“Without our barrister offering to act pro bono at the inquest hearing we’re not sure what would have happened. It seems desperately unfair that we have had to crowdfund to cover our legal fees, and rely on our barrister waiving her charges, when the hospital’s legal team are paid for by our taxes.”
Cases such as those are daily injustices in our coroners courts. We can no longer ignore the voice of Bishop Jones or Rachel Bradford. I urge members of this House to retain Lords amendment 11 because it is the right thing to do. If the Bill passes without the inclusion of Lords amendment 11, we will miss another opportunity to ensure that fairness is at the heart of our legal system.
From the day this Bill was introduced, we have puzzled about why the Government were wasting time interfering with judicial processes that are designed to improve the quality of executive decisions, rather than tackling the record backlog of cases in our courts and protect the victims of crime. By supporting Lords amendment 11 the Government could make a small but significant step to improve the court system and the experience of bereaved families.
It is a pleasure to follow the Front-Bench speakers in this short but important debate. I welcome the Government’s stance on presumption and their acceptance of the amendment made in the Lords. It is worth remembering that Lord Faulks, who chaired the independent review that gave rise to all these proposals, took the view that no harm was done by removing that presumption, and that thereafter the discretionary power to have a prospective-only order that can be considered by the courts if it meets the interests of justice was, as I think he put it, an extra club in the bag of the judiciary. That is the whole point of it: it extends the remedial powers available. At the end of the day the presumption was not perhaps necessary, and the Government have taken a sensible and pragmatic stance on that. The principle of having that extra flexibility in the remedy is not objectionable, and I am glad the Opposition have not opposed it.
Some of the other changes made by the Government in the Lords are welcome. The ability to make payment for pro bono representation in a number of cases is welcome, and I am glad the Government have moved in that direction. Practitioners and the judiciary alike will welcome the changes to make online procedure rules easier and swifter to deal with, so those are practical changes.
Two issues then remain, including Cart appeals and litigation. I must respectfully differ with the shadow Minister and their lordships on that, and it is perhaps worth quoting what Lord Faulks said about it in the other place—after all, he examined this issue with probably more care than anyone. His stance was that the independent review into administrative law
“came to the firm conclusion that Cart ought to go. It did so carefully considering the fact that Parliament should be slow before reversing decisions of the Supreme Court.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 31 March 2022; Vol. 820, c. 1736.]
That was its view, having carefully considered the evidence, in adopting a cautious approach to such a change.
Cart was controversial at the time, and it remains controversial. Lord Carnwath, who has given evidence to the Justice Committee in the past, raised questions about the Cart appeal, with his specialist knowledge of the genesis of the upper tribunal. The general view of many is that, to quote a phrase used by Lord Hope in Committee, it was a “legal misstep”. There are, of course, a tiny number of successful cases, but those should be set against the very real burden that falls not on the Court of Appeal, where Lord Etherton— for whom I have great respect—served, but on the justice sitting in the Queen’s bench division. That is where the judicial pressure is, and we should look to remove something that many practitioners, and in private many members of the judiciary, regard as an unhelpful burden on them.
In immigration cases in particular, convention rights will be engaged, but they will have been engaged from the outset. By the time we get to the Cart appeal, they will have been argued and considered by the first-tier tribunal and by the upper tribunal which, as Lord Carnwath pointed out, was designed to be a superior court, and to have in effect the judicial weight and equivalence of the High Court. An anomaly arises from the Cart decision, and it is right and proportionate to remove it.
Finally, having supported the Minister on all matters so far, I turn to Lords amendment 11, on legal aid at inquests, which is the one area where he knows that he and I will part company. I heard what he said about waiting to see what further consultations arise, but this has been a real and live issue for many years and the facts have been well ventilated. As he knows, I pray in aid the Justice Committee’s report, which took the view that there is an overwhelming equality of arms argument. This is a situation in which the state—or its agencies—is legally represented but the families bereaved, potentially through a failure or action of one of the state’s agencies, are not. That is not fair and, with respect, the Government spoil what is otherwise a good Bill by not taking that point on board.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers helpfully points out that, in reality, although inquests are strictly an inquisitorial process, they have evolved and are now, to a degree, more adversarial in nature. That is inevitable, and sometimes it arises from the state agencies who are party to the proceedings and may be responsible for the deaths. Such inquests, which are a small minority of the total number of inquests but important for obvious reasons, particularly if there is a potential failing of a public body, need to be examined with particular care. However, without legal representation, the family of someone who has lost their life as a result of something that has gone wrong may have to plough through reams of volumes of documents, which is probably quite distressing for them. It does not seem right or fair that they should be expected to do that without legal support.
I grant that there has been some movement on the lifting of the means test for exceptional funding, but in any event families still need to meet a high bar—the article 2 bar—to get exceptional funding, and that will not work for the majority of these cases. Occasionally, families have to use conditional fee agreements, but again they usually work only if there is likely to be a money claim—a successful compensation claim—that sits alongside that. In many inquests, that will not be the case, but there is a public interest in the family having a chance to explore and probe what went on, and potentially what went wrong, in the hope that that might lead to changes in behaviour by the relevant body so that such a thing does not happen again.
I appreciate that the Government pray in aid costs, but I think they are small in the overall scheme of things. These are a small minority of inquests, but they are particularly sensitive. Hillsborough is the most obvious example, but there are others of a like kind. I would have thought that the amount of public money likely to be consumed is minimal set against the importance of the quality of arms argument, which I think we all regard as pretty fundamental to the fair working of the system.
I am sorry that the Government have not moved as far as they could, and I hope that the Minister will indeed pursue the consultations that are going on, but I do not think we need to wait for them, because the evidence is there. The Justice Committee’s report was strongly evidenced. Two chief coroners have supported the introduction of legal aid for this class of inquest and, if they do not know the reality of the situation, who on earth does? It is worth saying that, since the post was created, our series of chief coroners have done much to improve the consistency and standards of the coronial courts, but I regret to say that the Committee’s report found strong evidence of there still being instances of variability in the attitude of some coroners towards bereaved families and variability in those families’ ability to challenge some issues that arise. For that reason, it is important that they should have legal representation.
One can think of a case quoted to us in which a coroner had tried to close down a line of questioning that led to a successful threat of judicial review. The coroner rightly recused themselves, but if the lawyers had not been engaged in the case to begin with, that might not have happened, and there might well have been an injustice. That is why it is important to have lawyers involved in this limited number of cases. With respect, that is not likely to make the matter any more adversarial, and it may actually save time, because legal representation often cuts through things and gets to the issues more quickly than in cases where individuals are acting in person. Therefore, if the Government oppose Lords amendment 11, I am afraid that that is the one area where I will not be able to support them.
I will speak briefly about the parts that apply to Scotland, which are significant and potentially extremely damaging to people’s rights to access justice. Because Scotland is currently compelled to do as we are told as part of this Union—we do not have the normal powers of a normal independent country—even our own democratically elected Government can do nothing about that damage. If that is not an argument for voting yes in the 2023 independence referendum, I do not know what is.
It is also interesting that, on this Bill, as with the Nationality and Borders Bill and the policing Bill, it has been left to the House of Lords—the unelected House—to represent the views of the people and attempt to get rid of the most egregious parts of each horrible piece of legislation. As a big fan of democracy, that does not make me any more inclined to support an unelected Chamber, but I want to pay tribute to those Members who have worked so hard, often into the early hours of the morning, on all of the amendments to try to make an awful Bill a tiny bit more palatable.
Lords amendment 1 removes the power to include provision and quashing orders, removing or limiting their retrospective effect. Those on the Opposition Benches, and in particular those of us who were on the Bill Committee, tried hard to get the Government to understand that if quashing orders are not to be applied retrospectively, there will be a very chilling effect. Many of us talked about the landmark case of Employment Tribunal fees that Unison brought to the Supreme Court in 2017, where the Court found that Parliament was wrong to limit people’s access to justice by charging them to use the Employment Tribunal. It found in favour of the claimants, and the quashing order had immediate effect, so the fees were abolished immediately and the Government were required to refund anyone who had paid them in the past. Given that people were being charged up to £1,200, that was a great outcome that will have made a big difference to many.
However, if the Government get their way and Lords amendment 1 is not agreed to, should something similar happen in the future, anyone who had paid such fees would be unable to claim their money back. Who would put themselves through all that for no tangible outcome? There will be zero incentive to challenge the Government or other public bodies, so those public bodies and the Government will be able to proceed safe in the knowledge that they can do whatever they like. The Scottish National party therefore absolutely supports the very sensible Lords amendments 1, 2 and 3.
At last, the Government have seen sense and agreed to Lords amendment 4. There was something sinister about the Minister wanting the power to tell the judiciary how to do their jobs. Judges have a suite of remedies at their disposal, and they should decide which are the most appropriate, so I am relieved that they finally agreed to that amendment.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady is making an argument that contradicts her previous one. On the one hand, she said that she does not want retrospective quashing orders to be available to a judge to make a decision on, and the other hand, she argued that judges should be trusted to make their own decisions. Surely judges can be trusted to make decisions on whether a retrospective quashing order is or is not appropriate in an individual case.
We have had this discussion so many times before. The hon. Member needs to go and look up the meaning of the word “presumption”.
Lords amendment 5 is about Cart judicial review—in Scotland, it is Eba judicial review. The amendment would insert a new clause to enable appeals of an upper tribunal decision to refuse an appeal to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court if considering a point of law or if it is in the public interest. It is a compromise, and surely the Government can accept one further minuscule compromise. After all, as we have pointed out to Government Members on numerous occasions, the Government claim that their measures were motivated by a high number of attempts versus the low rate of success, but the evidence to support their position was so flawed that the Office for Statistics Regulation decided to launch an investigation, which found that the real success rate was at least 15 times higher than the Government were telling us. I do not think that we have had an apology for that obfuscation yet, but these days Government apologies tend to have something of a hollow ring to them. Therefore, instead of apologising, why do they not just accept that their stats were flawed and accept the compromise amendment?
Worse: the Government insist on thinking that a Cart judicial review is successful only if the appellant actually wins. The truth is that a successful Cart judicial review is one where the flawed decision of the upper tribunal is appealed and reversed. That has nothing to do with the final outcome of the case. If we base the figures on that, the stats show just how vital a safeguard Cart judicial reviews are. Using accurate figures, the Public Law Project calculated that 40 people every year would be otherwise incorrectly denied their right to appeal in cases where, as we heard from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), the stakes can be incredibly high. We are talking not about trivial cases, but sometimes life-and-death cases. The tribunal system considers access to vital benefits, and removing that layer risks leaving people with disabilities and those facing destitution and homelessness without a last line of defence.
The tribunal system also considers immigration cases, as we heard. If it is so flawless, how am I able to tell the story again of the Venezuelan man who fled to the UK after witnessing the violent murder of his friend by state actors who would most certainly have come after him, had he remained in Venezuela? The first-tier tribunal and the upper tribunal surmised that he had nothing to fear. Thankfully, he had that last line of defence, which the Government are trying to take away and the Lords are trying to save, and he was able to judicially review the decision. The upshot was that the man was allowed to appeal. He won and was saved from deportation and almost certain persecution and death.
Retaining the restricted supervisory jurisdiction, as proposed in Lords amendment 5, would help to avoid injustice. However, voting against the Lords amendment would be a clear demonstration that people such as the man I mentioned, people who are dependent on disability benefits, and people facing homelessness are irrelevant to the Government and to Conservative Members.
Lords amendment 7 is on the online procedure rule committee. We were disappointed that neither House accepted our very reasonable request to include just one representative on the committee with knowledge and experience of the Scottish legal system. When we proposed such amendments during previous stages, I said that accepting them would
“allow the Government to keep up their pretence about respect for Scotland”.—[Official Report, 25 January 2022; Vol. 707, c. 939.]
They have declined to do even that, as has the House of Lords. It is extremely disrespectful to Scotland and our distinct legal system.
The Bill is just one part of a broader programme of constitutional reform designed to allow the Government to restrict the rights of their citizens and, in particular, some of their most vulnerable people. The Bill needs to be seen as part of a whole alongside the independent Human Rights Act review, which is under way, a review of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which is on its way, and a succession of relevant pieces of legislation that are currently before Parliament—very currently, in fact; some are being considered this week and even today—such as the Elections Bill, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill.
Those proposals all have something else in common: they are decisions that should be taken by the countries affected. We should not have one country deciding for other, smaller nations. Why do the people of Scotland have to put up with what Liberty called
“a concerted attempt to shut down potential routes of accountability and exert the power of the executive over Parliament, the courts and the public”
when they have consistently voted for parties opposed to those things? I will tell hon. Members why: because a slim majority of people were frightened into voting against independence in 2014.
The people of Scotland will be far more afraid of all this legislation being imposed on us than any daft scare stories that the coalition of Unionist parties can come up with next time around. We will always show solidarity to people in the rest of the UK who are fighting these terrible wrongs, but next time, in 2023, I am confident that the people of Scotland will vote yes to independence and yes to making far better decisions for ourselves.
I rise to speak chiefly to part 1 of the Bill. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), and I listened with great care to her speech. She and her colleagues often accuse the Prime Minister of wanting to have his cake and eat it. I gently but firmly suggest that she is doing the same on this occasion by relying on the unelected House, which she does not believe should exist because she is a unicameralist. That would mean that her argument about relying on the second Chamber when it is convenient is a somewhat unattractive one.
Does the right hon. and learned Member not understand that Members who support the system of an unelected Chamber and put people into it—the Scottish National party does not—are the ones who are being hypocritical when they then criticise it? I operate within the existing system, but I am trying to change it. However, Government Members support the system and then get angry when it fails to do what they want it to.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady; her comments show the value of interventions, because we can have a genuine debate about a very important issue that goes to the heart of Lords amendments. My concern about the Lords amendments to clauses 1 and 2 is that their effect would be to go further—I am sure that it was not intentional—than their lordships’ usual role of providing close scrutiny and careful amendment, where the principle of the Bill is maintained but some of the details are altered. We have seen an example of that on presumption, on which the Government have rightly conceded.
However, when their lordships, in effect, challenge a Bill’s underlying premise, we have a problem. This was not just any old Bill; it was underlined by a manifesto commitment to look carefully at constitutional reform and, on the basis of independent recommendations and consultation, to take necessary action. The Government were mandated to do that by our manifesto. Their lordships did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading, rightly adhering to the Salisbury-Addison convention about manifesto commitments.
I say to their lordships, in a spirit of friendliness and co-operation, that they have to look very carefully at the overall effect of amendments that, in my considered opinion, frankly serve to undermine the whole thrust of part 1 of the Bill. That is regrettable and this elected House has to push back against it. I am very grateful to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for indicating that Her Majesty’s Opposition would not seek Divisions on amendments to the clauses in part 1. That is right and respects that principle.
However, some of the rhetoric about the reforms that we seek to introduce to judicial review does not stand up to even the lightest scrutiny. This is not an attempt to fetter judges’ discretion. It is, in fact, a sincere attempt to widen the powers that are available to them on judicial review remedy. In my view, nobody put it better than the noble Lord Judge, who talked in the other place about prospective quashing orders, where, for example, a local authority might have erred on a technicality, and said that there was no real public interest to be served in going through a process that patently would have resulted in the same outcome again because of the technical breach that had to be remedied by way of judicial review. This is all about expanding the discretion of the court.
There was no argument about introducing suspended orders. That could have been quite controversial. I can tell the House in all candour, having worked hard on the process of developing this policy prior to the Bill being introduced, that conditional orders were looked at very carefully. After a lot of soul-searching and discussion with those in the know—those who understand how judicial review works—the Government elected not to proceed with that option. Therefore, even before the Bill was introduced, there had been a refining process.
We did, in some measure, go beyond what was said by the independent review of administrative law, which was chaired so ably by the noble Lord Faulks. However, that is the prerogative of Government, after proper consultation, and that is precisely what happened based on our manifesto commitments. I make no apology about the provisions in clause 1. They are eminently sensible and I think they will enrich, preserve and enhance the discretionary power that judges have under the invaluable system of judicial review. This is an important step forward in the evolution of supervisory jurisdiction. It is a measured, incremental reform that is in the noblest traditions of the party that I am proud to represent.
Clause 2 is important as well. I say, with the greatest respect in the world, that attempts in the other place to reach some sort of compromise are ill-conceived. I use that phrase advisedly, because I know some of the noble Lords who proposed it and I have the greatest respect, for example, for the noble Lord Etherton. I am afraid that there was perhaps too much of a tendency in the other place to look at things from an appellate point of view. That is inevitable; we have very senior judges who end their long and illustrious careers dealing with appeals. That is the nature of things; they have gone through the system to the top. That is all fine and important, but sometimes, the experience of perhaps the upper tribunal, in this case, or courts of lower record is not properly encapsulated in some of the arguments. Again, in a spirit of candour and friendship to the noble Lords, I would say that the point is being missed: the issue lies not just at appeal, but at the upper tribunal in the lower court as well.
The whole purpose of the change—the ouster, if you like, of the Cart jurisdiction—was, in the words of Lord Foulkes in the other place, to “grasp the nettle” and end an otiose jurisdiction: an unnecessary addition to existing rights of appeal. Let us not forget that any person in the system, any applicant, has full rights of appeal and due process, in every sense of those words, as we would expect in the jurisdictions of England, Wales and Scotland.
Frankly, clause 2 is important with regard not just to its subject matter, but to the principle of ouster itself. That is why we carefully calibrated and thought through an ouster clause that would stand the test of judicial scrutiny; I nod to the officials in the Gallery with whom I had the honour of working. I very much hope that it does. There have been many attempts in this place to introduce ouster clauses that have been far too “brave”, to use Sir Humphrey Appleby’s word, and have failed the scrutiny of our reviewing jurisdiction.
I believe that clause 2, given the careful way in which it has been couched and its reflection of the clear intent of this House, as expressed in votes at all stages of the Bill, will and must stand the test of scrutiny. If not now, when? I very much hope that if this ouster clause works, we can use it as an example of how sensitively and carefully to use the will of this place, in a democratic and fair manner, to reset the balance that has to be carefully struck between the intentions of the legislature and the important work of our independent judges. That is what clause 2 is all about.
Well intentioned attempts to seek a compromise miss the point. They will in effect render nugatory the recommendation made in IRAL—a clear recommendation made by independent and, in the proper sense of the word, disinterested members of that review panel—and will, I am afraid, have the baleful effect of undermining the intention of this House. I am pretty sure that that is not what their lordships really intended. I say to them that it is the clear will of this House that those clauses go through, with the Government amendment, as part of our incremental reform programme that is designed to rebalance our unwritten constitution and strike the right relationship between this elected House and this Parliament and our independent, world renowned judiciary.
I rise to speak to Lords amendments 1, 2 and 3, all tabled by Lord Marks in the other place. I appreciate that the Government have made some concessions and I thank the Minister for his meeting with me.
Amendments 1, 2 and 3 would remove from the Bill the power to make prospective-only quashing orders. They are backed by the Law Society and Justice, and I urge Members across the House to back them too. Judicial review is one of the most powerful tools that an individual has to enforce their rights. Challenging the Government through the courts when they get things wrong is one of the core principles of our parliamentary democracy.
No; I am conscious of time and Madam Deputy Speaker is anxious that we proceed.
The principle should not be party political but one shared across the House. It is disappointing to see the Government pushing ahead with plans to restrict judicial review by opposing the amendments. Unamended, the Bill is described by the Law Society as “chilling”; clauses 1 and 2 undermine judicial review. Prospective-only quashing orders could be hugely harmful to those seeking justice: they would not only deny redress to someone who had been harmed by a public body’s unlawful action, but actively serve as a disincentive to those seeking justice through judicial review.
Let us imagine a person who had incorrectly been deemed ineligible for carer’s allowance by the Department for Work and Pensions. That person successfully challenges the decision through judicial review. Prospective-only quashing orders would mean that the person did not receive the back payments unlawfully denied to them. Those payments could mean the difference between a person heating their house or going cold, or between eating or going hungry.
To make matters worse, extensive delays in courts mean that decisions could be put off for even longer. Prospective-only quashing orders arbitrarily discriminate between those affected by an unlawful measure before a court judgment and those affected after one. There are numerous examples. In 2017, the High Court ruled that a Home Office policy to deport EU rough sleepers was unlawful and discriminatory. The policy was scrapped. If a prospective-only quashing order had applied, then potentially only those receiving a removal notice would be protected; all those who had already faced removal or had had a removal notice issued against them would still have faced deportation. That would not have been justice.
Important as they are, the damaging effects of prospective-only quashing orders go far beyond individual cases. They damage the basic principle that underpins our democracy: that individuals must have the power to challenge the powerful when the powerful get things wrong. If the Government or public bodies are spared the risk of retrospective legal consequences, the motivation for good decision making is lower. Public bodies will take their chances, particularly in issuing welfare benefits, because the cost of getting things wrong would still be lower than getting them right in the first place. That is bad not only for those seeking redress from the courts but for all of us. It should ring alarm bells for all of us.
The Bill is just another Government programme of constitutional reform that weakens the institutions and rights that hold them to account. We saw that in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill and the Government’s voter ID proposals. We Liberal Democrats will continue to stand against any attempts to weaken the institutions and rights that hold the Government and the powerful to account. I urge Members across the House to do the same and vote in favour of Lords amendments 1, 2 and 3.
I am grateful to all those who have spoken about the Bill today. I have only a short time, so I will briefly canter over the points raised in this important debate. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) for recognising that we have made a significant concession on the presumption; we, in turn, are grateful for having been enabled to bring important reforms to judicial review through clauses 1 and 2.
On the issue of judicial review and prospective-only quashing orders, I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) made a good point to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) in saying that we cannot have it both ways. The Bill gives new powers and flexibility to judges; we should not at the same time fetter judges and try to predict what they would do in individual cases. That is the key point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), Chair of the Justice Committee, said, this is about giving judges an extra club in the bag—a golf analogy; I said that it was another tool in the toolbox. Whether we use DIY or sport analogies, we all understand that there is an extra tool for the judiciary—more powers and flexibility.
On the issue of Cart JR, my hon. Friend made a really important point. The resource issue is about High Court judges, particularly in the Queen’s bench division, who after all hear some of the most serious cases around the country, not just in London.
I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, and concerns from all hon. Members, when it comes to legal aid. I have previously expressed my strong sympathy—particularly for MPs in the north-west, who have had a long experience around Hillsborough. Of course we are looking at that and other matters.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith is aware of the measures that we have already introduced. Even if we agreed on this measure, the Opposition would surely have to accept that it simply would not be possible for such a significant measure to be introduced at such a late hour in the course of a Bill. Were we to continue to go back and forth on this, we would risk undermining the Bill—and we must not forget that it also contains very important measures on criminal procedure, not least changes in magistrates’ sentencing powers. As soon as those new powers come in, they will start to have an impact on our backlog by ensuring that cases that would otherwise be dealt with in the Crown courts can be heard in magistrates courts. I therefore think it important for the Bill to receive Royal Assent.
As I have said, I am pleased to commend the vast majority of the Lords amendments to Members, but I ask them to join me in disagreeing with Lords amendments 1, 2, 3, 5 and 11, and agreeing to the Government’s amendment (a) while disagreeing with Lords amendment 5.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83G).
Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 3 disagreed to.
Exclusion of review of Upper Tribunal’s permission-to-appeal decisions
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 5.—(James Cartlidge.)
Lords amendment 5 disagreed to.
Government amendment (a) made to the words so restored to the Bill.
After Clause 42
Publicly funded legal representation for bereaved people at inquests
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 11.—(James Cartlidge.)
Lords amendment 11 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 4, 6 to 10, and 12 to 22 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 1, 2, 3 and 11;
That James Cartlidge, Scott Mann, Julie Marson, James Daly, Andy Slaughter, Chris Elmore and Anne McLaughlin be members of the Committee;
That James Cartlidge be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Alan Mak.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.
Business of the House (Today)
That, at today’s sitting, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on—
(1) the business determined by the Backbench Business Committee not later than two hours after its commencement;
(2) the motion in the name of the Prime Minister on the situation in Ukraine not later than three hours after its commencement; and proceedings may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Alan Mak.)