Controversial changes to judicial review have sailed through a second reading in the House of Commons, making a mockery of speculation about a potential backbench rebellion.
The Judicial Review and Courts Bill was voted through its latest stage by 321 votes to 220 yesterday, with resistance to the legislation coming entirely from the opposition. No Conservative MPs voted against the government. Former shadow home secretary David Davis, who had spoken out against the reforms this week, abstained.
The government says it wants to stop abuse of the judicial review system and give judges new powers to delay when and how public bodies must act to correct actions ruled unlawful.
The bill also seeks to ban late challenges in immigration cases – the so-called Cart cases.
Introducing the bill, Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, said 750 judicial review were made to upper tribunal decisions each year, the vast majority of them immigration cases, where the success rate was 3.4%.
Raab said: ‘Of course there must be accountability, but allowing such a large volume of flawed challenges skews the system. Allowing a legal war of attrition—not just against the government, but, as in this case, against the judiciary themselves—undermines the integrity of the two-tier tribunal process, which was set up precisely to deal both fairly and efficiently with immigration cases.’
He added that the bill dealt with the problem of unmeritorious cases in a ‘sensible and proportionate’ way, preventing Cart appeals except in the most exceptional circumstances and saving 180 judge days a year.
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy questioned why the government was making judicial review such a priority at a time when the backlog in the Crown court had reached 60,000 cases. He argued the bill showed ministers were ‘more concerned with constitutional vandalism than with fixing the mess they have made of the justice system’.
Lammy said the plan to change how quashing orders work would limit redress to victims of unlawful decisions and have a ‘profound and chilling’ effect.
The legislation, which also makes significant changes to how courts operate, now moves to committee stage before a third reading in the Commons. The bill will then be debated in the House of Lords.