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Lord tells GLS panel session: Grayling looks ridiculous

Lord Chancellor cannot just 'wrap himself in Magna Carta', says Lord Pannick QC

25 February 2015

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Lord Chancellor cannot just 'wrap himself in Magna Carta', says Lord Pannick QC

The Lord Chancellor has once again drawn criticism from inside the government-backed Global Law Summit (GLS), after a member of the House of Lords attacked him for "throwing cold water" over the legacy of Magna Carta.

Speaking at a GLS panel session set to consider a comparative approach to the judicial review of legislation and executive decisions, Lord David Pannick QC drew loud applause from a host of international lawyers for his criticism of recent government reforms to judicial review.

Having already outlined the history of judicial review in England and Wales, Lord Pannick turned to the audience and added: "Our Lord Chancellor and secretary of state for justice, Mr Grayling, has recently persuaded parliament to enact what I think are very regrettable restrictions on the efficacy of judicial review. I say that in the presence of Lord Faulks, who was the minister for justice, who did a remarkable job in persuading the House of Lords to accept Mr Grayling's proposal."

The leading barrister from Blackstone Chambers then explained to the assembled crowd of international lawyers how the recently passed Criminal Justice and Courts Act "imposes limits on when a judicial review raising issues of general importance can be heard at all if the point would not have affected the outcome for the individual claimant" and how the legislation also "impedes the ability of interveners to assist the court".

Pausing to let the laughter die down, Lord Pannick continued: "Mr Grayling acted in this way because he said, and I quote: 'judicial review has become a promotional tool for countless left wing campaigners'.

"I hope that this summit will send a message to Mr Grayling. My message to him is that if you wrap yourself in the Magna Carta - as he does - you are inevitably going to look ridiculous if you then throw cold water on an important part of its legacy, that is, judicial review."

Lord Pannick's speech led to loud applause from the crowd, much to the possible embarrassment of Lord Faulks, who was sitting just a few rows from the front.

This is not the first time a high-profile lawyer has used his position within the confines of the controversial summit to rail against government policy and the Lord Chancellor in particular. Earlier this week, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), Tony Cross QC, said the government was showing "contempt" for the rule of law. Yesterday, the president of the Law Society raised the issue of government interference with access to justice and claimed that the rule of law was an empty concept without it.

French model

Responding to a question during a later part of the session about alternative systems of judicial review, and whether the UK should adopt a system more similar to that in France, Lord Pannick said: "I think our system works perfectly well."

"We are all concerned about transparency, accountability, promoting public confidence in politicians and the rule of law, but it is quite remarkable that our system enables any person to go to court before an independent judge, in public, and to require a government department to provide a coherent answer - a reasoned response - with evidence to the complaint about illegality. It is something to celebrate," he added.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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