At times the profession has been guilty of reaching too readily for its favourite incantations. Whether ‘speaking truth unto power’, or observing ‘be ye ever so high, the law is above you’, grandiloquence can alienate.
But last week, as the Commons voted to support government policy that severely restricts judicial review, use of both phrases was entirely justified. The way in which government has set about removing the law’s ‘height advantage’ is deeply depressing.
On the Tory benches, heavyweight former law officers Grieve (pictured) and Garnier called out the government on this point. As Garnier memorably put it, the lord chancellor relies on ‘footling, silly cases’, such as that brought over the remains of Richard III, to prevent judges from granting permission for many judicial reviews and to invent a ‘moderately nonsensical’ new principle – exceptional public interest.
JR is by necessity fairly swift and therefore comparatively cheap. All sides, in Sir Rupert Jackson’s unsettling phrase, have ‘skin in the game’, and JR represents the check on the competence and legality of decision-makers the public assumes will always exist.
In place of that assumption we now see principles seemingly exhumed from the world of Shakespeare’s Richard III, where ‘strong arms be our conscience, swords our law’.