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Tag Archives: Judicial review

Coronavirus crisis: just the time for an experiment in deregulating child safeguarding

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Everyone agrees: the coronavirus lockdown is putting particular pressure on vulnerable children. They are more at risk of violence and abuse when confined to their own homes and less able to seek help. Only 5% of them are believed to be at school, where they have a right to go despite the lockdown.

So the Government will have put much thought into helping under-pressure local authorities and their social workers to have the emergency legal backing to perform their child safeguarding duties in these particularly challenging circumstances, right?

Wrong. In fact what has most exercised the Department for Education is launching an experiment to reduce or remove certain statutory local authority child safeguarding duties – using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse. Hence the  Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 – a piece of secondary legislation published by the Government on 23 April in a Parliament of MPs scattered around a country on lockdown and passed into law the morning after.

The worry is that the Government has used coronavirus as a stalking horse for an experiment in what it has already been trying to do for some years despite Parliament’s opposition – producing a less regulated system of child safeguarding. The fear is that emergency legislation is actually crafted as a response to a longstanding Conservative bugbear – that councils should be relieved of safeguarding obligations – rather than a response to the Covid-19 emergency. Read the rest of this entry

Bad for bees: FoE loses neonicotinoid pesticide case

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Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has failed in its UK High Court attempt to stop the emergency use of banned neonicotinoid pesticides, implicated in the decline of bee populations.

The use of three neonicotinoid pesticides is illegal under European Union law, though the law is due to be reviewed. The UK Department for Environment (DEFRA) authorised use of two of the pesticides for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oil seed rape crop after the National Farmers Union had made an application for their emergency use over the autumn.

The Hon Mrs Justice Patterson has now rejected an FoE challenge to the authorisation for the pesticides Modesto and Cruiser OSR, which contain neonicotinoids. In seeking a judicial review FoE claimed it had arguable cases that:

i) the UK Government did not give proper consideration to whether the risk to oilseed rape on the farms constituted an emergency;
ii) that no consideration was given to whether the risk could be contained by other means;
iii) that there was no compliance with the requirement that the authorisation should be limited and controlled.
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A question of standing: Grayling’s new attack on Judicial Review

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How do you decide what is in the public interest? Just ask the government. That, apparently, is UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s view in his latest proposals to curb judicial review.

There have been too many judicial reviews in the public interest, is what his argument amounts to. In the latest consultation on curbing JRs he says: “The concern is based on the principle that Parliament and the elected Government are best placed to determine what is in the public interest.” It doesn’t need judges, organisations or even ordinary people to do the job for them. “L’intérêt public, c’est moi”.

Among the matters in the public interest that Grayling draws attention to, one assumes because he would rather not have seen them brought to court, was an issue of whether Taliban suspects should have been transferred from the British authorities in Afghanistan to the Afghan government – putting them at risk of severe abuse. Grayling complains that their case was brought by a peace activist, Maya Evans, who was not a member of the Taliban nor a prisoner in Afghanistan – and so had no direct interest in the matter at all.

The judge in the case allowed her to bring it (in other words gave her standing) because of her expertise in such issues of human rights and the fact that Britain’s treatment of prisoners abroad is a matter of public interest.

But that is not good enough for Grayling. He suggests only people with a “direct” interest be allowed to bring such cases – the Taliban prisoners themselves perhaps. Read the rest of this entry

We need a judicial review into who’s killing JR

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Here’s a riddle wrapped up in a paradox: could judges using the power of judicial review strike down David Cameron’s attempts to curb the use of judicial review?

The British Prime Minister has complained at people exercising their right to hold the executive to account. He wants to “reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews – so people think twice about time-wasting”.

Now let us remind ourselves of the chilling threat issued by Baron Steyn, of Swafield in the County of Norfolk. In R (Jackson) v Attorney General (House of Lords case 2006) he said on the supremacy of Parliament:

The judges created this principle. If that is so, it is not unthinkable that circumstances could arise where the courts may have to qualify a principle established on a different hypothesis of constitutionalism. In exceptional circumstances involving an attempt to abolish judicial review or the ordinary role of the courts, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords or a new Supreme Court may have to consider whether this is a constitutional fundamental which even a sovereign Parliament acting at the behest of a complaisant House of Commons cannot abolish.”

He is saying that if Parliament sought to abolish judicial review, courts would have to defy Parliament even though Parliament is sovereign. The rationale for his position is that there exists in Britain the rule of law. You know the one: the rule that says the Government is subject to the law, just like everyone else. The one the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, David Cameron, keeps forgetting.

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General Powers and Super Pickles: the new local heroes

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So, what is the “general power of competence” that, at the sweep of a minister’s pen, can banish the courts from interfering with local authority affairs and bring religious harmony to our land? UK Communities Secretary Eric Pickles brandished his pen to sign into law ahead of schedule provisions of the Localism Act 2011 to deal with the Bideford Town Council prayers row. They give councils in England “general powers of competence”, powers that allow them “the same power to act that an individual generally has”. The idea is to free them to offer services in innovative ways. But Pickles has a wider agenda: to keep “unaccountable judges” out of politics.

Hitherto local authority powers have been constrained by Acts of Parliament – they could do what was laid out in those Acts (particularly the Local Government Act 1972) and no more.

As a result, according to a Communities Department introduction to the new Act: “Sometimes councils are wary of doing something new – even if they think it might be a good idea – because they are not sure whether they are allowed to in law, and are concerned about the possibility of being challenged in the courts.The Government has turned this assumption upside down. Instead of being able to act only where the law says they can, local authorities will be freed to do anything – provided they do not break other laws.”

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Bideford council prayers ruling fails to ban Christianity (shock)

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Let us be clear. Britain remains a Christian nation, as Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has insisted – or just as much of a Christian nation as it was before Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that Bideford Town Council had no legal powers to hold prayers during council meetings.

Nor has there been any curtailing of “the right to worship … a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty,” as Pickles suggested. There is not, for example, any ban on Church of England clerics coming within five miles of London; no likelihood of vicars being burned at the stake; no exclusion of members of the Church of England from public office – all milestones (applied by the English state to Catholics and Dissenters) along the road towards establishing the “hard fought British liberty” of worshipping according to the rites of the Anglican state religion (in England, of course, not elsewhere in these islands, where there was a certain amount of resistance to having such British liberty imposed).

But enough of the rant. What actually has Mr Justice Ouseley done if he has not disestablished the Church of England and its communicants? What he has done is look at the powers of local authorities under the Local Government Act 1972 and found that they do not include the power to call elected representatives to a brief act of Christian worship. Such calls are, in the old terminology, ultra vires of the legislatively sanctioned powers of the Town Council.

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