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Editor's Viewpoint: McCord's legal bid to reverse prorogation of Parliament not most effective way to show displeasure at politicians

Raymond McCord (Victoria Jones/PA)
Raymond McCord (Victoria Jones/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

The ramifications over Brexit are many.

And now TUV leader Jim Allister has questioned the cost of a court challenge to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament.

He is asking the Department of Justice to find out how much legal aid has been granted to fund proceedings brought by victims' campaigner Raymond McCord.

Mr McCord is seeking an injunction to try to force the Prime Minister to alter his advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament.

His lawyers claim this is an unlawful attempt to curtail debate on a potential no-deal Brexit.

He is also taking judicial review proceedings against the Government to prevent a no-deal Brexit, having previously sought to review judicially the Government's move towards leaving the EU.

Mr Allister claims that each application may have cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds.

He is seeking from Peter May, the permanent secretary in the Department of Justice, a list of the occasions on which Mr McCord has been granted civil legal aid, the subject of individual proceedings, and the annual amount of legal aid spent on each.

Currently, the annual cost of legal aid in Northern Ireland is more than £63.5m, and some £38.2m of this is spent on civil cases such as Mr McCord's applications.

There is no doubting his record as a campaigner. Acting almost single-handedly, he exposed the UVF terrorist gang in north Belfast that murdered his son Raymond jnr in 1997.

However, his current reinvention of himself as a legal champion of the Good Friday Agreement, and anything which challenges it, risks confusing the properly separate roles of the legislative branch and the judiciary.

Indubitably, politicians' decisions must always be reviewable by the courts. However, it should be a general principle that political decisions are taken by politicians, and that the courts become involved only as a last resort, when some fundamental principle becomes involved.

Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court Justice, underlined this in his BBC Reith lectures this year during which he claimed that the law - and especially the expanding human rights law - was filling the public space which was formerly the preserve of politicians.

He argued that judges, and particularly those in the European Court of Human Rights, were exceeding their power by expanding the interpretation of human rights laws. He described this colourfully as "mission creep".

Should politicians ultimately be answerable to the law? Absolutely. Are arguably frivolous applications, whose costs rise in inverse proportion to their likely success, the best way to do this? Absolutely not.

Surely there is a more direct way to "put manners" on our political classes - it is called an election.

We may get the opportunity to make known our displeasure with politicians sooner than we think - if we have the courage to do so.

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