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Judges concern over review reform

The country's most senior judges have raised concerns about reforming the system that allows the public to challenge decisions made by the state in the courts.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is pushing through changes to the judicial review process that will restrict how it can be used.

Baroness Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said ministers did not like having their decisions challenged legally.

She told peers: "I'm not sure that this is really a question of public resources. I think the problem is, not surprisingly, that nobody who is running a government department, or who are operating in a government department, is very happy when somebody comes along and says the decision you have just taken is not in accordance with the law. Nobody likes that."

Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger told the House of Lords Constitution committee any reforms of the system must be looked at "very carefully".

"If you don't have a healthy and accessible judicial review function for the courts then you don't have a satisfactory modern democratic society," he said.

"Therefore, I would start by saying any interference with or restriction of judicial review has to be looked at very carefully ."

He added: "I think that the idea, for instance, of the delays which the planning system in particular was seen to suffer from as a result of some judicial reviews, that should be sorted out, and I believe to a substantial extent is being sorted out, by speeding up the process, by having more dedicated judges."

Lord Neuberger said the focus should be on "improving" the system but insisted it was inevitable that some "hopeless" applications go through.

"Because judicial review is so important and because the world is imperfect, I think one has to accept as well worthwhile and inevitable the fact that there will be some applications that are unmeritorious and nonetheless get pursued and hold things up."

In the wide-ranging session, peers were told that British judges were becoming more "self-confident" in going against rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

Lord Neuberger said: "There's no doubt that we can and do depart from Strasbourg decisions.

"Sometimes it is our duty to say to Strasbourg 'Think again' and, to be fair, on a couple of occasions we've done that and Strasbourg has thought again and changed its mind.

"There could in principle be occasions where we have said to Strasbourg 'Think again', they have thought again and they have stuck to their view, when we would then have to decide do we still stick to our view or do we follow Strasbourg?

"I've no doubt that 10 years ago the answer from almost any judge would have been that we would follow Strasbourg. Now, I think that more judges would be prepared to contemplate not following Strasbourg."


From Belfast Telegraph