Boris Johnson ‘planning reforms which would let ministers overrule judicial decisions’

Reported move triggers backlash from lawyers, with one senior QC quoted as saying the prime minister is seeking a ‘more compliant judiciary’

Ella Glover
Monday 06 December 2021 06:10
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Boris Johnson wants to weaken the power of courts to overrule decisions by ministers through the process of judicial review, according to reports.

The Times reported the PM wants to allow ministers to effectively throw out any legal rulings they do not agree with.

It comes after a number of clashes with judges, such as the ruling that Mr Johnson’s 2019 decision to prorogue parliament for five weeks was unlawful.

According to the newspaper, justice secretary Dominic Raab has been tasked with toughening plans to reform judge’s powers to rule on the legality of minister’s decisions. Whitehall sources were cited as saying the move would reinforce parliament’s sovereignty over the unelected judiciary.

An option drawn up by Mr Raab and attorney general, Suella Bravermen is for MPs to pass an annual “Interpretation Bill” in which ministers will strike out findings from judicial reviews the government did not agree with. The plan has reportedly won the approval of No 10.

The move has received backlash from the legal establishment, with one senior QC quoted as saying the prime minister is seeking a “more compliant judiciary.”

Labour MP Stella Creasey said: “The one rule for everyone else, no rules for them motif of this government is quite something.”

Mr Johnson is reportedly unhappy with the Judicial Review and Courts Bill currently going through parliament – which focuses on subtle remedies such as suspended judgments to give ministers time to tackle problems – because it “doesn’t go far enough,” according to sources quoted by The Times.

This is the latest attack on the legal framework by the government.

Mr Raab on Sunday said he wants to “correct” the drift towards the principle of free speech being outweighed by protection of privacy.

The justice secretary’s intervention comes just days after Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, won an appeal court battle over the Mail on Sunday’s publication of extracts of a letter to her father.

Court of appeal judges ruled that the duchess had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the contents of the letter which were “personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest”.

Speaking to Times Radio on Sunday, Mr Raab did not directly reference the duchess’s case, but made clear he believes the balance has slipped too far in favour of the ability of rich individuals to protect their secrets.

He said: “In the politics of this country, we’ve had a heavier emphasis on free speech, transparency, accountability for politicians, for people in positions of influence. We don’t have the continental-style privacy law protections.

“If we were going to go down that route, it should have been decided by elected politicians.”

He added: “I think the drift towards continental-style privacy laws, innovated in the courtroom not by elected lawmakers in the House of Commons, is something that we can and should correct.”

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