Boris Johnson has been told to keep his “grubby, populist hands” off the judiciary following reports he is speeding up plans to curb the power of the courts to “extract revenge” for a humiliating legal defeat last autumn.
Johnson is seeking to set up a panel to define in law the powers of the judicial system which he believes is being hijacked to “conduct politics by another means”.
The move seemingly breaks an election manifesto pledge to hold a commission into the way UK courts work and operate with Johnson expected this week to announce his plans to establish a panel to examine judicial reviews instead.
‘PM is trying to restrict scrutiny and horde power in No 10’
While No 10 have so far not responded to the Telegraph’s report, shadow justice secretary David Lammy tweeted: “The independence of judges is central to our democratic settlement. The courts must be allowed to hold the government to account when it acts against the law.
“Boris Johnson should keep his grubby, populist hands off the judiciary.”
The Labour front bencher later told the Independent that his party “will oppose attacks on our judiciary” and Johnson’s further attempts “to restrict scrutiny and horde more power in Number 10.”
Johnson wants ‘revenge for humiliating defeat’
Government sources told the Telegraph that the new panel will aim to produce a report on reforming the judicial system with four months leading to legislation early next year “which would prevent a repeat of Mr Johnson’s humiliating defeat in the Supreme Court last September”.
It will seemingly break an explicit pledge in the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission to examine ‘in depth’ issues ranging from judicial reviews to the Human Rights Act. However, the Telegraph reports that Johnson “has decided to speed up the process on priority issues by setting up small, highly expert panels to deal with each element individually.”
The Independent reports constitutional experts were already alarmed by the idea of the commission as outlined by the manifesto promise to “examine the relationship between the government, Parliament and the courts”. Critics have suggested the plan to overhaul judicial reviews “are a means by which No 10 is seeking to extract revenge” for what the Independent – along with the Telegraph – describes as the PM’s “humiliating defeat” at the Supreme Court when justices ruled his decision to prorogue parliament was unlawful.
The government’s attempt to suspend parliament in September led to a court battle that saw the PM accused having “lied to the Queen” before the case arrived in the Supreme Court where its president Lady Hale declared the unanimous decision of 11 judges who ruled the prorogation was “unlawful, void and of no effect”.
Judicial review – farce or something to be proud of?
In February, Downing Street said it “bitterly regretted” a Court of Appeal decision following a judicial review that blocked the deportation of people to Jamaica.
Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser was quoted at the time as calling for “urgent action on the farce that judicial review has become”.
The chair of the Bar Council Amanda Pinto QC said: “Far from being a mark of dysfunction, judicial review is an appropriate check on decision-making, of which a nation should be proud.”
Caroline Goodwin QC, of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “Judicial review is a process to keep a check on authorities acting beyond the legal remit that may have been granted to them by the law, thus playing a part to ensure the law applies equally to everyone; this is what the rule of law means.”