Justice secretary Chris Grayling has told MPs his plans for judicial reviews will stop pressure groups using individuals as ‘financial human shields’ to bring cases.
Under the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill the identity of anyone financially backing a judicial review would be disclosed to the court.
The measure, which had its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday, would also make third parties who voluntarily join in a JR case as interveners responsible for paying their own way.
Grayling rejected criticism that the bill would make it hard for people to intervene.
‘My real concern is when pressure groups use individuals as financial human shields in cases that the groups wish to bring,’ he told the commons. ‘They find someone who has no financial means, and use them to challenge the government, and whether or not they win, the government—that is, taxpayers—are guaranteed to have to pay the bill.
‘The taxpayer will have to foot the bill because there is no prospect of recovering the costs from the individual who is fronting the case. That is what I am seeking to change.’
Grayling said protective costs orders will still be available for cases of ‘genuine public interest’, but his experience was that ‘all too often cases are brought for public relations and campaigning reasons’.
He assured the commons that judicial review would continue in its role as a check on the powers that be and to allow people to challenge genuinely wrong decision by public authorities.
In response, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan cited a Daily Mail article written by Grayling that described judicial review as a ‘promotional tool for countless left-wing campaigners’.
Khan pointed out that many Conservative backbenchers and local authorities had been involved in JRs against Heathrow expansion and high-speed rail extensions.
He added: ‘I hold up my hands up as a former minister and admit that for someone who is part of the executive the threat of being judicially reviewed can sometimes feel like a nuisance.
‘Judicial review can be a pain for decision makers, but that is the point. It is about making sure that decisions are taken properly, follow due process and are within the laws of the land.
‘If we expect our citizens to abide by the rule of law, the government should be no different, which means acting lawfully, not scaring off opponents before the game has begun, or imposing huge consequences on the team that loses.’
The bill, which also makes provision over sentencing powers and fine collection, will go to committee in the coming weeks, with a report expected by 1 April.