The controversial Judicial Review and Courts Bill ‘is not probably terribly dangerous’, former home secretary Lord Blunkett has said - although he warned it could be used as a ‘stepping stone’ by subsequent governments.
Blunkett, who as David Blunkett MP was home secretary between 2001 and 2004, said he thought judicial review is ‘a good way of ensuring that we [as public officials] are reminded constantly that the power we exercise in government is on behalf of the people’.
But he added that he believed there were ‘other occasions where there has been a slight overstepping, where opinion and empathy have overridden actually making hard-headed legal judgments’.
Speaking as part of a panel discussion at the Questions of Accountability Conference this week, Blunkett said of the proposed measure: ‘The bill as laid down at the moment is not probably terribly dangerous, but the stepping stone on which others might tread probably is. It is always, as I have been reminded time and time again when I was a cabinet minister, it is always what someone else might do with the legislation or action you are taking.’
Blunkett added: ‘I am fully in favour of, not an activist judiciary, but a judiciary that has a very careful eye on those in power and what exercising power means to the individuals at the receiving end.’
He accepted that, during his time as home secretary, the department sometimes ‘got into a bit of a twist’ with the judiciary, referring to a case when the government decided to ‘put posters up at ports and airports’ warning potential asylum seekers to do so promptly. Blunkett said the courts’ decision to ‘knock down’ the policy was ‘one of those occasions where I felt that the judiciary had overstepped the mark’. He added that the policy was overturned, not because it was irrational, but ‘because people felt it was unfair’.
Speaking on the same panel, former Supreme Court president Baroness Hale said it is ‘completely understandable if a public authority or a government minister does not like being told that they cannot do what they want to do or that they have acted unlawfully’.
She added: ‘After all, no judge likes their decision being overturned by an appellate court – we hate it – but you have to learn to live with it and it is part of being in public life.’