Charities' access to judicial review 'must not be limited'

Lawyers and Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, say the government should abandon plans to restrict the right of charities to bring cases

Sir Stephen Bubb
Sir Stephen Bubb
Charity umbrella bodies and legal experts have called on the government to abandon plans to limit charities’ access to judicial review.

A government consultation, which closed last week, proposed measures to restrict the number of people with the "standing" to bring cases – a measure likely to reduce the ability of charities to take up judicial reviews on behalf of their beneficiaries.

It also proposed to reduce the ability of campaigners to seek protective costs orders to limit the amount they might have to spend on cases.

Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, says in a statement accompanying his charity’s response to the consultation that the proposals were "an un-evidenced, ideologically driven attack on civil society’s ability to hold public authorities to account on behalf of citizens".

He says the government "must go back to the drawing board and abandon these disastrous plans".

Acevo says in its consultation response that the government put forward misleading evidence to support its proposals.

"The consultation paper states that ‘the number of judicial review applications has more than doubled in recent years’," the response says. "However, this rise is entirely a result of growth in asylum and immigration cases.

"When these cases are excluded, the number of judicial reviews has stayed constant, at around 2,000 per year for the last 10 years."

The response says it was "a core function of civil society to provide a voice for those who otherwise face barriers to engagement with the policy-making process, including marginalised and vulnerable groups in society", including through judicial review.

"The proposals set out in the consultation document could severely curtail the ability of charities to lodge judicial reviews on behalf of their beneficiaries," the response says.

It says the consultation "suggests that the government would rather see a quick decision than a good one, and views compliance with the law of the land as an unnecessary distraction for public authorities".

The Public Law Project, which works to improve access to justice for disadvantaged people, also published a highly critical response, which says this consultation is the third in a year to seek to restrict access to judicial review.

The response says the organisation has "serious concerns about the lack of an evidence base for the proposals, and the very real danger of relying on anecdotal and impressionistic evidence to justify policy decisions".

It says those decisions were "a profound and constitutionally significant attack on the rule of law and the ability of citizens to hold the executive to account" and "on the ability of individuals, charities and NGOs to access judicial review".

"Their effect will be to insulate executive action from judicial scrutiny, weakening the rule of law," the response says.

The law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite opposes all the main changes in its response. It criticises a claim by Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, that charities use judicial reviews as a delaying tactic and a way to drum up publicity.

"Judicial reviews brought by voluntary organisations are disproportionately successful, disproving any assertion that they are misusing judicial review as a means of generating headlines or publicity," the response says.

Asked to respond to the criticisms, the Ministry of Justice said in a statement from Grayling that there had been a "huge surge" in judicial review cases in recent years.

"The system is becoming mired in large numbers of applications, many of which are weak or ill-founded, and they are taking up large amounts of judicial time, costing the court system money, and can be hugely frustrating for the bodies involved in them," he said.

"We want to go back to a system where judicial review is available for genuine claims, which provides people with access to judicial review where they need it, but weeds out the cases that should frankly never be there in the first place."

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