Fayed's court challenge fails

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The Independent Online
The decisions of Sir Gordon Downey, the watchdog on parliamentary malpractice, cannot be challenged in the courts, a High Court judge ruled yesterday. Mr Justice Sedley rejected a bid by Harrod's owner, Mohamed al-Fayed, to question the validity of a report concerning the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, saying that the court had no jurisdiction over Sir Gordon's actions.

The report, completed in March, cleared Mr Howard of allegations by Mr Fayed that he took pounds 1.5m in bribes from Lonhro chief Tiny Rowland through an intermediary in 1987, in exchange for opening a Department of Trade and Industry inquiry into the takeover of House of Fraser.

Mr Fayed's counsel, David Pannick QC, had applied to the court for a judicial review of the report, asking for it to be quashed as unreasonable. Sir Gordon had failed to question several witnesses and was not thorough enough in looking into Mr Howard's acquisition of funds and property, it was alleged. The case raised a question of "considerable constitutional importance" over whether or not the commissioner was subject to challenge in the courts. He should not be immune from review, Mr Pannick argued.

Mr Pannick said the commissioner performed an "important governmental function involving matters of substantial public interest, that is conducting official investigations into allegations of breaches of parliamentary standards".

Stephen Richards, for the commissioner, said his client was an officer of Parliament appointed internally after the recommendations of the Nolan report into parliamentary standards. His role was to investigate complaints about the conduct of MPs. "The House of Commons is not subject to the courts in internal proceedings," he argued.

Mr Pannick said that if the courts gave the message to Parliament that any persons appointed by standing orders rather than legislation were not subject to court control, government departments would be able to "immunise" decisions of important bodies from judicial review. The court should consider the scope of judicial review.

Mr Justice Sedley, giving his ruling, said the "constitutional divide" between the judiciary and Parliament was of "great historical importance". He said that Sir Gordon was not subject to scrutiny because he had been appointed internally by Parliament to report directly to a select committee. That did not mean Parliament could hide from judicial review by carrying out investigations under standing orders, because departments of state were part of the executive and open to control by statute and common law.

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