PILS Blog: What’s in a name?
Emma Cassidy, PILS Senior Engagement Coordinator
“If the Ministry of Justice had written a briefing that the deputy PM was thinking about how to change a system called ‘Accountability Check’ to limit its effectiveness, the issue might well be leading news bulletins.”
What’s in a name?
Last week, The Guardian published a story based on the contents of a leaked Ministry of Justice document. The report, previously intended for internal eyes only, contained the following sentence:
“You (DPM) have indicated that you are minded to consult on further reforms to judicial review.”
So far, so bland, right? Actually, no.
DPM refers to the current deputy prime minister Dominic Raab. The process that is in the crosshairs for ‘further reforms’ is judicial review.
The term ‘judicial review’ doesn’t really grab your attention on first reading, let’s be realistic. It sounds like it might be some sort of regulatory body for judges themselves. A departmental memo hinting at the potential for changes to how it operates might not set alarm bells ringing.
For PILS and our civil society colleagues, who have seen the power of judicial review in action, it’s a very different story.
If the Ministry of Justice had written a briefing that the deputy PM was thinking about how to change a system called ‘Accountability Check’ to limit its effectiveness, the issue might well be leading news bulletins.
As a description, ‘judicial review’ doesn’t really do itself justice. It reads like an unfinished phrase in a way, as the mechanism is a judicial review of something. That something is powerful decision-making.
In a judicial review, a judge examines how a public body made a particular decision and says whether they followed the proper steps and laws to reach that conclusion.
Government departments, health trusts, the police, tribunals – all of these are public authorities. Think of the influence they can exert in all our lives. And now think about how important it is to have some method of checking how they make (potentially life-altering) decisions.
PILS and our members have worked together on some ground-breaking judicial reviews over the past decade: on everything from integrated education, Irish language strategy delays and Brexit to social security and healthcare.
Judicial review is our legal accountability and scrutiny tool. It is the warning system that sounds when public bodies don’t make decisions in the best way.
It needs to be protected, not watered down.
And it’s tiring because we have been here before. In 2020, an independent panel examined the practice of judicial review and considered if it needed to be reformed. In 2021, the Ministry of Justice ran a public consultation, again asking whether judicial review needed to be reformed. The responses were clear: judicial review works well. In spite of this, the government appeared determined to legislate.
The Judicial Review and Courts Act came into effect on 15 July 2022. Less than a month later, the ‘reform’ conversation has reared its head again.
That alone has put PILS on high alert.