Labour’s justice spokesman has said that the party would welcome more scrutiny and challenges to its decisions if it comes to power next year.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told a fringe event at the Labour party conference that he wanted to re-establish the importance of holding governments to account.
Khan accused the coalition government of ‘chipping away’ at current powers – first through legal aid cuts and then through restrictions on judicial review.
The Ministry of Justice says it wants to stop abuse of the system and to prevent campaigners from using judicial review as a political tool. Its reform package includes plans for courts to assign costs based on the financial position of applicants and their supporters – a policy which the department claims has the support of senior judiciary.
Speaking at the Society of Labour Lawyers event yesterday, Khan said the judicial review system and Human Rights Act provide a necessary check on government actions.
‘Holding power to account is very important – it doesn’t matter if it’s an energy company, a private company running a car home or a decision made in a prison.
We can have debates about how we fund it but I want to see us work hard to win power [next year] and then work out how to give that power away.
He recalled that ‘[In government] civil servants would say to us "you can’t do this or might be JR-ed" – I thought that was wonderful as I want there to be checks if we’re compliant.’
Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry emphasised Labour’s commitment to the Human Rights Act and said the current government should be prepared to accept it.
‘Politicians play games with the act and don’t like the idea that the law is greater than all of us. Whether or not the law is against you then tough – you can’t act as king,’ she said.
Labour's party conference is set to host a number of fringe events dedicated to justice issues – with legal aid and access to justice high on the agenda of most. Khan will give his keynote speech on Wednesday morning.