Queen's Speech: government mustn't undermine justice, says Law Society
Rights are meaningless if people cannot defend or realise them, the Law Society warns
Prime minister Boris Johnson used today’s Queen's Speech to commit to “strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution”, with forthcoming legislation to “restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the court”. This would include a Judicial Review Bill
However, the Law Society of England and Wales warned that the rule of law must underpin every step of the UK’s post-pandemic recovery.
Responding to the Queen’s Speech, the Society’s president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “As the government looks to rebuild after the pandemic it should ensure its plans don’t fly in face of our British values.”
In a recent Law Society poll, 94 per cent of people said they think it was important the UK is seen as a country which upholds the law.
Boyce added: “Britons overwhelmingly want their country to be a beacon of the rule of law with rules applying equally regardless of the individual or the institution.”
But she says the proposals on judicial review “risk taking power away from citizens and putting more into the hands of government. The rule of law and access to justice would be significantly weakened”.
“The independent panel convened by government to review the relationship between the courts and the state found no evidence of judicial overreach”, added Boyce. “Judicial review is an essential check on power.
“It keeps government and public bodies on the straight and narrow and allows individuals to uphold their rights when faced with the might of the state.
“The effect of government proposals would be a fundamental distortion of the protection judicial review is supposed to provide against state action, undermining the rule of law and restricting access to justice.”
It was also announced that measures to be set out under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would be brought in to increase sentences for the most serious and violent offences
However, Boyce said without wider investment in the justice system, the measures “may be doomed to fall short”.
She warned: “The justice system – which is essential to maintaining law and order for the safety of us all – is on its knees.”
“Rights are meaningless if people cannot defend or realise them – whether because they can’t get legal aid, because of huge delays in the courts or because avenues for redress such as judicial review have been watered down”, she added.