Judicial Review and Courts Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, leave out line 9
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and others in the name of Lord Marks to Clause 1, would remove the power to include provision in quashing orders removing or limiting their retrospective effect (“prospective only quashing orders”).
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, Amendments 1 to 3 in my name remove the power to make a quashing order prospective only or otherwise to limit its retrospective effect. These amendments replicate amendments tabled in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who unfortunately already had commitments abroad for today when I put down these amendments and so cannot be here.

This debate is not about the power to suspend a quashing order, which in some cases, we agree, may be a reasonable step. However, that is a far cry from a court on the one hand deciding that government action or regulation is unlawful, so that the court is going to make a quashing order, but then on the other hand being empowered to say that past unlawful action must stand, just as if it had been lawful. That is the effect of new subsection (4), which says that

“the impugned act is … upheld in any respect in which … subsection (1)(b) prevents it from being quashed”,

and of new subsection (5), which says that

“it is to be treated for all purposes as if its validity and force were, and always had been, unimpaired by the relevant defect.”

That is to validate unlawful action that the courts find expressly contravened the law—usually law made by Parliament.

I do not accept that the principle that unlawful action or regulation should be quashed ought to be abandoned simply because there may be hard cases for those who had relied on the law, as they wrongly believed it to be, and may be wrong-footed by the decision that the Government had acted unlawfully. In that category falls the songwriters’ case in 2015, mentioned in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, where those who had innocently copied CDs in the belief that they were entitled to do so were found to have acted on the basis of an unlawful regulation.

Such hard cases may be addressed either by administrative action, where unlawful activity before the law was clarified would go unpunished, or by a suspended quashing order, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and I argued in Committee, giving Parliament the chance to correct any possible injustice, if necessary retrospectively. After all, it is for Parliament to change the law, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, pointed out—not for judges to decide to overlook a failure by government to comply with the law’s requirements.

That completely solves the dilemma described in Committee by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in respect of the case of Ahmed, a terrorist asset-freezing case. The noble and learned Lord specifically suggested in that case that a suspended order would give Parliament the time to introduce fresh, lawful regulations.

Even more important to be weighed in the balance than the risk of hard cases are the fundamental principles that underly judicial review: that government must act within the law, that there must be remedies to correct unlawful action and that judicial review is public law in action. Orders made on judicial review are for everyone, not just the applicant before the court but all affected citizens, past, present and future. Many potential applicants cannot afford to apply for JR or simply do not know they can or how to go about it, yet this proposal would expose them to the consequences of unlawful executive action, even if a later challenge by a better-funded and more savvy litigant succeeded. If enacted, this new subsection would fire the starting gun on an unseemly race for justice.

It cannot be right for judges to be able to find that, for example, a tax was unlawful and in excess of power, yet to hold—after thousands of citizens may have paid that tax—that they will quash the unlawful regulation but that, because the sums involved were low, it would be disproportionate to repay all those who have paid, and so quash it only prospectively, leaving those who have already paid the tax cheated and out of pocket.

That is not the end of it. What about those who have not paid up? The unlawful regulation and the unwarranted demands remain effective for them, treated, in the words of new subsection (5),

“for all purposes as if its validity and force were, and always had been, unimpaired by the relevant defect.”

The Minister’s only answer to this conundrum in Committee was that it was

“almost incomprehensible that a court would use”

the power

“where people have paid taxes that were necessarily unlawfully raised”.—[Official Report, 21/2/22; col. 68.]

That is no answer, especially in the light of the presumption that the courts should generally exercise the power. The only respectable answer is not to give them the power.

In the environmental field, this power would probably put us in breach of our international obligations. We are bound by Article 9 of the Aarhus convention of 1998 to accord to all members of the public with a sufficient interest the right

“to challenge acts and omissions by … public authorities which contravene … national law relating to the environment.”

We are further bound by paragraph 4 of the same article to provide them all with “adequate and effective remedies” for infringement. Environmental law is central to public law and frequently the subject of judicial review. We would not be complying with the convention by denying members of the public who do not get in first the right to enforce the law. That is what prospective-only quashing orders would do. I doubt that such orders can be an adequate remedy.

Furthermore, in a case involving judicial review of unlawful executive action breaching a citizen’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, this new subsection seems to run the risk of being a denial of the citizen’s Article 13 right to an effective remedy. That article guarantees that:

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority”.

I suggest that an effective remedy is denied to a citizen whose right of action is stymied because some other litigant who was quicker off the mark in the race for a remedy has previously been granted a prospective-only quashing order.

This is not, as it has been described by the Government, a case of a harmless discretionary power in the judicial toolbox. It is a case of handing to judges the power to validate actions of the Executive that the court finds violated the laws passed by Parliament.

I will say very little about the presumption that is the subject of the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Lord Pannick and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. I add only this to what I said in Committee: the presumption makes the denial of justice inherent in Clause 1(1) that much worse because, however many times the Minister may describe this as a “low-level” presumption and seek to persuade your Lordships that judges will always find ways not to implement it, the fact remains that it sets a default position to which conscientious judges are bound in law to adhere. In the absence of a finding of good reason not to do so, and provided that “adequate” redresses are offered

“in relation to the relevant defect”,

the court must both suspend a quashing order and remove, or limit, its retrospectivity. One is entitled to ask: “adequate redress” for whom? What does that expression mean, especially for the luckless loser in the race for justice which I mentioned? I do not believe that, to date, the Minister has given an adequate response. I beg to move.

Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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In the absences of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who has unfortunately caught Covid, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I shall speak to Amendment 4. This would remove subsections (9) and (10) of the proposed new Section 29A of the Senior Courts Act 1981. This amendment is supported by the Law Society, the Bar Council, the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and the Public Law Project.

Subsections (9) and (10) are not based on any recommendation from the Independent Review of Administrative Law chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. Subsection (9) is either constitutionally dangerous or unnecessary. It reads like a straightforward presumption in favour of making one of the two new quashing orders—a suspended or prospective-only quashing order. If that is a correct reading, it will be for the courts to say what its proper interpretation is. Subsection (9) is constitutionally dangerous and inappropriate as providing a precedent for interference by the Executive with the exercise of judicial discretion. Furthermore, it is contrary to the rule of law in so far as it limits the remedies which are available to set right the unlawfulness of conduct by the state.

In Committee, the Minister said that subsection (9) is not a presumption in the sense of

“trying to fetter judicial discretion or to steer … the courts to a particular decision.”

He said that it will be

“up to the court to decide what remedy is appropriate in the individual circumstances of the particular case”,—[Official Report, 21/2/22; col. 93.]

and that the court’s choice of remedy will, in this case as in others, be guided by what is in “the interests of justice”.

One must ask what the purpose of subsection (9) is. Is it necessary at all? The Minister explained that its purpose is to encourage the development of jurisprudence applicable to the new quashing remedies by requiring the court to consider those remedies positively. If subsection (9) is not, as it appears to be, a straightforward presumption, there is absolutely nothing in the wording of the subsection to support the Minister’s explanation as to its purpose. It is completely unnecessary, following the Minister’s interpretation, because the court is bound to take into account all the circumstances and remedies available in the case of unlawful conduct by the state, and taking into account all the “relevant” matters is specifically required by subsection (8).

Moreover, whatever the reason for the presence of subsection (9), it will encourage further litigation by way of appeal, as it introduces the hard-edged test in subsection (9)(b) that one of the new quashing orders

“would, as a matter of substance, offer adequate redress in relation to the relevant defect”.

That is a hard-edged test and not a discretion. It plainly raises the possibility of widespread disagreement. In short, no good purpose is served by subsections (9) and (10)—only bad purposes—and they should be removed.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, before I seek to test the opinion of the House—which I propose to do—I will make two short points. I do not accept that there is no distinction between a suspended quashing order—which we accept is sensible in the interests of what the Minister referred to as remedial flexibility—and a prospective-only quashing order. The remedial flexibility in a suspended quashing order addresses entirely the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, in his article in the Times, and also addresses the point made in the Ahmed case, as explained by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in Committee.

The objection, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, to the prospective-only quashing order is not only that his independent review recommended suspended quashing orders, but it did not recommend prospective-only quashing orders. The important objections to prospective-only quashing orders are, first, not that they give the judges too much power, but that the power they give is to validate unlawful action before the date on which the quashing order is made—action that is ex hypothesi unlawful because that is what the court determines. Secondly, they would deprive litigants of a remedy if they have already suffered from the unlawfulness before the date of the quashing order.

The Minister said, incomprehensibly, that he stood by the answer that a quashing order would be made in the tax case. We say that the tax case illustrates the very danger of the court having the power to quash prospectively only. For those reasons, I respectfully seek the opinion of the House.

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Moved by
2: Clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 15 to 18
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and others in the name of Lord Marks to Clause 1, would remove the power to include provision in quashing orders removing or limiting their retrospective effect (“prospective only quashing orders”).
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Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the IRAL came to the firm conclusion that Cart ought to go. It did so carefully considering the fact that Parliament should be slow before reversing decisions of the Supreme Court. It made the recommendation in relation to Cart and the case of Ahmed only, despite a number of other cases which were drawn to the panel’s attention as being possibly wrongly decided. As I pointed out in Committee, this was also the view of Lord Carnwath, who had specialist knowledge of the genesis of the Upper Tribunal. I believe it is the view of many, though of course not all, judges.

There are, as we have heard from the noble and learned Lord, a cohort of judges who have to consider what are almost always hopeless applications. They consider them very conscientiously. There may be an argument as to how much time precisely is spent and at what cost, but with very great respect, I am not sure that that is the point. The applicants have, in effect, already had three bites of the cherry. In the extremely unlikely event that a specialist tribunal has made an egregious error of law, I am sure the House will be aware of the fact that the qualified ouster clause contained in Clause 2 provides that, if there is a bad faith decision by the Upper Tribunal or one that is procedurally defective in a way as to amount to a fundamental breach of the principles of natural justice, there will still be an opportunity to challenge it. For the most part, there will not be.

Of course, I have enormous respect for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and other noble Lords who support this amendment, but I respectfully submit that we need to grasp the nettle. The poor prospects of success have not deterred applicants from making Cart judicial review applications in the past. I accept that this amendment would further reduce the avenues of challenge, but it would not, I suspect, put anybody off. I am sorry to say that this amendment seems to be something of a fudge. It will frustrate the purpose of the Bill. I fear that, if passed, a Cart JR application will continue to be the most popular JR application. The IRAL found that, of all the possible avenues of judicial review, this is the most popular and that statistic has not been challenged. Perhaps that is not surprising. If you are seeking asylum, it is not surprising that you would seek out every avenue in the hope that you would somehow be successful the next time.

On Amendment 6 from the Labour Front Bench, the potential review which this amendment envisages seems almost impossible to provide—although, no doubt, hard-working civil servants diverted from many other tasks would do their best if this amendment were to become part of the Bill. An asylum application will of course usually involve arguments that include references to Articles 3 and 8 and possibly even the Equality Act. By definition, these arguments have been rejected at all stages of the process. What precisely is this report supposed to do? Is it supposed to conduct a quasi-appeal of all those decisions? How will the material be obtained to enable the report to be provided? With great respect, the House really needs to know how this work will help, before committing the Government to an expensive and possibly fruitless exercise.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, to which the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and I have added our names. I suggest that the amendment is a sensible compromise between abolishing Cart JRs altogether and setting a defensible limit on the prospect of excessive satellite litigation by limiting appeals.

We see and acknowledge the risk posed by large numbers of unmeritorious challenges to decisions of the Upper Tribunal dismissing appeals from the First-tier Tribunal, but believe that risk has been exaggerated by the Government, in terms of both the time and judicial resources expended on Cart JRs, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has explained, and the low success rates, which are contended and relied upon by the Government. In particular, we doubt that the Government’s figures take into account the full overall impact of successful JRs on the judicial review climate as a whole, particularly in the area of immigration, to which Cart JRs generally apply.

The Minister is not alone in overestimating the time and judicial resource that would be saved by the abolition of Cart reviews. I say now what I should have said during the debate on the last group: I am very grateful to the Minister for the time he spent discussing with us the issues arising in this Bill, including on Cart reviews. However, in spite of those discussions, we agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that any savings achieved by the abolition of Cart JRs are not worth tolerating the injustice that would be caused by their abolition. Every successful Cart application signals an injustice that would be done to a future applicant were this clause to be enacted.

As many of us said in Committee, this clause, unamended, would set an ugly precedent for ouster clauses in future legislation, building on the general purpose template in this clause, which is designed to insulate unlawful executive action from judicial review. I suggest that the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, elegantly avoids that pitfall and it is very important that we support it for that reason, as well as others.

The bar to launching a Cart review is and will remain high: the applicant for judicial review always has to surmount a difficult hurdle in securing permission to bring an application. That is as it should be, given the nature of the supervisory jurisdiction. Indeed, the conditions set out in the Cart case itself were restrictive and stringent, and they will not change. The provision outlined by the noble and learned Lord, whose amendment would allow for an appeal from a decision of the supervisory court directly to the Supreme Court only, in the most limited circumstances only and subject to very short time limits, is a sensible safeguard—and no more—to ensure that important points of law can be considered by the Supreme Court in appropriate cases. I suggest that the Government should not be concerned about that.

Amendment 6, to be spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, seeks a review of the operation of the provisions in Clause 2, with particular reference to the consequences for persons with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and the enforcement of rights under the Human Rights Act 1998. We support it in principle, but of course we await hearing from both the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the Minister on this.

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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I wish to speak very briefly to Amendment 17. As I think I said previously, there has been thought of moving sentencing powers up for some 15 to 20 years. It is of paramount importance that we have a proper analysis of the effect of this. The effect could be serious not only for the prison population but for the individuals concerned. I hope, therefore, even if the Minister cannot respond now, that officials in his department will come back with some reliable reporting mechanism so that the effect of this change can be analysed. I warmly support it, but if it goes wrong—and that has always been the worry—there must be proper data. Asking for it now, I hope, will ensure that it is thought through carefully and provided in due course.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I will add very little to what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said in moving his amendment. The House has been much assisted and considerably informed, as we frequently are, by his experience as a sitting magistrate and, in particular, by his experience of young people in court.

I do not propose to go through these amendments one by one. I said in Committee, and I repeat, that we are generally supportive of the measures in the Bill, which modernise our criminal procedures, make more use of online access and simplify guilty pleas in low-level cases. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in what I understand is a series of probing amendments, which he does not propose to put to a vote, spoke of what I might divide into a number of principal themes which we also consider important.

The first is a concern for protections and safeguards for young people in the context of the new procedures. The second is ensuring that all parties understand the new procedures and have full information about the consequences of decisions they have taken, in particular about the effect of guilty pleas, and indeed that they have access to legal advice. The next is a concern that increased sentencing powers for magistrates be monitored and kept under review. I fully endorse what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said in that regard. That is very important. We are entering relatively uncharted territory and, although many of us see those themes as significant, nevertheless it is important that they be monitored.

That said, we await the Minister’s response with interest and hope that the safeguards sought by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will at least be introduced by the Ministry in considering how we go forward with these new procedures after the enactment of the Bill.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for putting down these amendments which, as he says, are probing amendments. I am also grateful to him for his time in discussing all of these points, I think, in a number of meetings we have had.

What I will seek to do—and I hope the House will forgive me if I do not go into too much detail—is respond to them point by point. I will try to strike a balance between giving a proper response here and not unduly delaying the House with points of detail. It may be that there will be points on which I might write further, but I will try to get the main points on the record, so to speak, because these are probing amendments.

I will start with Amendment 7 to Clause 3 on the new automatic online conviction procedure. This amendment would limit the application of this procedure to non-recordable offences only. I can assure the House in terms that we have no intention of extending this new procedure to any recordable offences. This is a new approach for dealing with certain minor offences, which is why we have committed to reviewing this procedure before considering whether to extend it to any further offences. Any extension of the procedure to additional offences would have to be both debated in and approved by Parliament.

Amendment 8 would allow the Criminal Procedure Rules to make provision about information that should be made available to the media and public on cases heard under the automatic online procedure. Amendment 13 would make a similar provision to Clause 6 for cases dealt with under the new online indication of plea and allocation procedure. This is already provided for in legislation. In fact, current provision in the Criminal Procedure Rules goes further. Rule 5.7 of the Criminal Procedure Rules sets out the basic open justice principle that courts must—that is a “must”, not a “may” as in the amendment—have regard to the importance of dealing with cases in public and allowing a public hearing to be reported. Rules 5.8 to 5.11 set out the process for providing that information and the types of information that should be provided.

The court will therefore provide the media with information about the outcome of these proceedings via the court media register within 24 hours of the case being dealt with. In the case of the automatic online procedure, this would include the conviction and fine imposed. That extends the arrangements currently in place for the single justice procedure for defendants who choose this new option.

In the case of the online indication of plea and allocation procedures, the information on the register would include the alleged date and details of the offence, the indicated plea and whether the case was being sent for trial. Any subsequent hearings for case management, trial or sentencing would be listed as normal and defendants would still be required to appear at a hearing in open court after they had proceeded with the online indication of plea and allocation procedures in order to confirm and enter their plea. I underline that this is because we are dealing here with an indication of plea.

Amendment 9 to Clause 4 deals with the guilty plea in writing. It seeks to raise the age of eligibility for the Section 12 plea, as it is called, by post procedure from 16 to 18 years. However, in distinction to some of the matters I have just referred to, this is not a new procedure. It has been available as an alternative method of summary-only prosecution for defendants aged 16 and over since 1957. That is rather a long time. As I said in Committee, I am not aware of any particular issues of concern being raised for children. Clause 4 will ensure that prosecutors can also offer this long-established procedure for suitable cases initiated by charge in person at a police station and will, if they do that, maintain the same age criterion that already exists for prosecutions initiated by summons or postal charge. This would provide defendants and prosecutors with the option of resolving more types of less serious, summary-only cases without having to spend time and resources attending a court hearing. It is subject to a range of safeguards, which I think I set out in some detail in Committee; I hope the House will forgive me if I do not repeat them all this afternoon.

Amendment 12 to Clause 6 proposes a new written procedure for indicating a plea to a triable either-way offence online. It would require a written invitation from the court to inform the defendant about the real-world consequences of pleading guilty to a crime and getting a criminal record. So far as that amendment is concerned, Clause 6 already states that the court must provide important information about the written procedure when writing to a defendant, including the consequences of giving or failing to indicate a plea online. Clause 6 will also enable secondary legislation under the Criminal Procedure Rules to require or permit the court to provide additional specified information where it is deemed necessary.

Importantly, any indication of plea provided through the new written procedure will not be binding on a defendant until they appear before the court at a subsequent court hearing to confirm it. They can also change or withdraw their indicated plea and, again importantly, if they do that, the indicated plea of guilty cannot be used against them in the proceedings that follow.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, we very much welcome this amendment and thank the Minister very much for responding so positively to the suggestion. There was never any justification for a distinction between tribunals and courts in this regard. Also, the House has every reason to be very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for pushing the point and bringing it to such a successful conclusion.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for these amendments and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, who has had a number of discussions with the Minister on this point. He very generously thought that the Government’s amendment was a more suitable wording, if I can put it like that. I do not know whether that is right, but that is the sense I got. It is good to finish Report on a note of agreement, which it does through these government amendments.