Letter: Levelling the playing field for challenges

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article 'Power, prestige and paradox' (20 July) welcomes Lord Rees-Mogg's legal challenge 'regardless of the motives that lie behind it'.

I have no reason to doubt that the motives behind Sir James Goldsmith's decision to fund this challenge are anything other than entirely honourable; however, I am concerned that it should require the backing of a philanthropic millionaire to challenge the Government in the High Court.

Lord Rees-Mogg's unusual approach could well create a precedent for vested interests to seek to upset or frustrate 'badly drafted' proposed legislation in the future. The delaying factor alone would normally have a significant effect on the progress of such legislation.

In such cases, the Government's costs are borne by the unlimited funds of the taxpayer, whereas the challenger requires substantial financial backing in order to proceed, and is at an immediate disadvantage. Rich and powerful interests would have no diffficulty in following this route, while John Major's 'citizen' wouldn't stand a chance.

An equitable solution could be achieved by establishing a fixed rate for a preliminary application to the High Court, which would be paid into court by the challenger. If the court declined to grant leave for a challenge, this sum would be forfeited, thus deterring time-wasters. However, if the court granted leave for a challenge, the 'deposit' (which might perhaps be equal to that required of a prospective parliamentary candidate) could be refunded and the full costs of both sides of the action would then be met by the taxpayer.

Yours faithfully,


London, N10

21 July