How the government allows itself to break the law

This government is stepping in to make it so much easier for ministers to break the law - and get away with it
This government is stepping in to make it so much easier for ministers to break the law - and get away with it
Alex Stevenson By

The government is going to force judges to let it get away with breaking the law.

It seems a shocking claim. But, unnoticed by most, that is exactly what ministers are attempting to achieve under the criminal justice and courts bill currently working its way through parliament.

Forget the Maria Miller resignation - this is the biggest scandal of the year. And just because the detail is mostly legalese mumbo-jumbo, no-one seems to get what's about to happen.

The changes affect judicial review, the process by which the government can be challenged in the courts.


The government doesn't like judicial review one bit. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was prevented from making cuts to Lewisham hospital by a judicial review which established he didn't actually have the power to do so. Home secretary Theresa May's logic was declared "irrational" by a judge in a judicial review earlier this week.

But it's still staggering that the Ministry of Justice has the audacity to attempt to make it much, much harder for individuals or organisations to point out the government is breaking the law.

The government is hiking the costs of the process so much that most people simply won't be able to afford to mount a legal challenge against the executive - whether that's a government minister, your local council, or any other public sector area where busybody officials look to take shortcuts.

Civil liberties group Liberty's Sara Ogilvie, who has written for us on the attack today, puts it like this:

The cumulative impact of these hacks and hurdles will be huge, and their importance goes far beyond the legal world. Simply put, the changes will prevent individuals and organisations from holding the state to account.

It's even worse than that. Instead of always being required to act lawfully, as has been the case for centuries, the legislation will force judges to dismiss any attempted legal challenge where acting lawfully wouldn't have made a difference.

These changes will send out a clear message to the army of civil servants who govern our lives: you might just be able to get away with it. The urge to take shortcuts with the rules will be irresistible.

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