A shocking proposal to deprive the poor of a basic democratic right: the ability to challenge unfair decisions by the state

The Coalition's reforms to Judicial Review are anti-democratic and obnoxious.

Here is a shocking proposal: to save money, why not simply say that all poor people should be deprived of the vote?

After all, a high proportion of them do not actually use their votes anyway, and it would simply be a return to the situation pre-1918 – wasn’t the century before then the time when Britain was at its most glorious?

Of course, the shocking proposal above is not a real one. It would be quite obviously anti-democratic and obnoxious and would be met with a huge public outcry.

However, the Coalition is doing something which is no less anti-democratic and obnoxious; yet it is being met with only limited opposition. I refer to the proposed reforms to a little known part of the legal system called Judicial Review (JR).

JR is the process by which people can challenge decisions made by the state. This is not only Whitehall or local government, but also any public body taking a decision.

Every day public officials make countless decisions over a huge range of areas. A decision might, for example, be about whether and how to house someone, whether to let a child into a particular school, or about awarding a rail franchise or over a planning application.

JR is concerned with the way decisions are taken rather than the decisions themselves. It is the protection for the citizen against unfair and arbitrary decisions. It makes officials accountable to the people who will be affected by their decision and ensures that they consider all relevant factors and ignore all irrelevant ones when making their decision.

They can’t, say, favour their own relative or decide on the basis of skin colour. Nor can they decide on a whim or by throwing a dice or a dart. They have to take the decision properly.

The ability of those with deep pockets to challenge unfair and arbitrary decisions will not be affected by the Coalition’s proposals. However, the proposals will affect the ability of the poor to bring cases as legal aid will be restricted. And without equal access to justice, the UK can no longer be properly considered as operating under the rule of law.

Depriving poor citizens of the ability to challenge decisions of the state is as fundamental a stain on our democracy as depriving them of their right to vote would be.

Last week the most senior judge in the country, Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, took the unusual step of using a public lecture to express some highly trenchant views on the Coalition’s proposed reforms to JR:

“The courts have no more important function than that of protecting citizens from the abuses and excesses of the executive – central government, local government or other public bodies…the more power that a government has, the more likely it is that there will be abuses and excesses which result in injustice to citizens, and the more important it is for the rule of law that such abuses and excesses can be brought before an impartial and experienced judge who can deal with them openly, dispassionately and fairly.
“…we must look at any proposed changes [to JR] with particular care, because of the importance of maintaining JR, and also bearing in mind the proposed changes come from the very body which is at the receiving end of JR.
“…the cost-cutting proposals risk deterring a significant number of valid JRs and will save a pathetically small sum
“…Cutting the cost of legal aid deprives the very people, who most need the protection of the courts,  of the ability to get legal advice and representation

…If a person with a potential JR cannot get Legal Aid, there are two possible consequences. The first is that the claim is dropped: that is a rank denial of justice and a blot on the rule of law. The second is that the claim is pursued [without a lawyer], in which case it will be pursued inefficiently [and cost the system more].”

In the introduction to his lecture, Neuberger said as follows.

“I am not being alarmist, but there is a deep truth in the adages that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and that all it takes for wrong to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

When as distinguished and eminent a man as the country’s top judge says such things, the great British public ought to stir themselves just as they would if a government actually did try to stop all poor people voting.

29 Responses to “A shocking proposal to deprive the poor of a basic democratic right: the ability to challenge unfair decisions by the state”

  1. OldLb

    Still missing the basic problem.

    Namely the state is running a system where the costs are so vast, that people can’t get redress.

    Note that the problem is the state. The state is screwing people.

    Both in the cost and in the decision.

    And your solution?

    More money to the state and its lackey lawyers.

    Beggars belief really.

  2. Sheila Hannigan

    I think the human rights would have something to say. The tories are stupid.

  3. Martin McGrath

    This is potentially a vital issue, so it might have been useful to include a summary of what the government are actually doing:

    1.Reducing the time limit to challenge a decision from three months to just six weeks or a month and restricting the ability of claimants to challenge decisions in complex cases where decisions may have been made as the result of ongoing processes.

    2. The abolition of the right to an oral hearing if there’s been a previous judicial hearing.

    3. The introduction of a £215 fee for an oral hearing.

    The government’s stated aim is to cut the number of judicial review hearings, which have doubled to around 11,000 since 2005. Even the government’s own figures are show that the cause of this growth has been almost entirely due to challenges about decisions based on asylum and immigration. The agenda here is to make it easier for the government to ignore its own rules as they chase the ridiculous targets they’ve set themselves for reducing the number of foreigners entering the country. The damage that it does to other poor people who get caught in the crossfire is entirely inconsequential to them – as usual.

  4. m montgomery

    i hope all commenting on here are complaining to there local MP and signing online petitions otherwise what is the point of having an opinion when you can do something about it

  5. m montgomery

    i hope all commenting on here are complaining to there local MP and signing online petitions otherwise what is the point of having an opinion when you can do something about it

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