POLITICS
25/11/2019 13:57 GMT | Updated 25/11/2019 17:00 GMT

Tory Manifesto Has 'Sinister' Plan To Put Government 'Beyond Legal Scrutiny'

Jolyon Maugham and Joanna Cherry say Boris Johnson's bid to "update" human rights law and judicial review process are causing "deep alarm".

The Tories have “very sinister” plans to reshape the legal system and put government ministers “beyond legal scrutiny”, according to the experts who fought Boris Johnson’s illegal shutdown of parliament in the courts. 

The prime minister launched the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the December 12 general election in Telford on Sunday. 

In the document are proposals to “set up a constitution, democracy and rights commission” and to “update the Human Rights Act”. 

The manifesto says these measures will “ensure there is a proper balance” between the rights of the individual and government. 

The commission will look specifically at the judicial review process. 

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Prime minister Boris Johnson presents the Conservative Party's manifesto on Sunday.

A judicial review is a court proceeding launched by an individual or a group where a judge reviews the lawfulness of action by a public body, such as a council’s planning department or the government. 

The Supreme Court ruled Johnson’s five-week prorogation of parliament was unlawful and that MPs must have a meaningful vote on Brexit after judicial review proceedings.

QCs Jolyon Maugham and the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, who both pursued ministers in court throughout the Brexit crisis, have hit out at the manifesto plans.

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SNP MP Joanna Cherry and lawyer Jolyon Maugham.

Cherry called it “pretty desperate stuff”, adding: “These proposals are very sinister given Boris Johnson’s track record of lack of respect for democracy and the rule of law.

“I suspect the Tories’ plan is to try to put government and executive action beyond legal scrutiny and to roll back human rights in a way usually seen in dictatorships.”

She added: “Boris Johnson really ought to be examining his own conduct – promising to ignore primary legislation, suspending parliament as an inconvenience – if he wants an explanation for the frequent reversals the Tories have suffered in the courts.

“The fact he’s responded to those losses by threatening to constrain judges will cause deep alarm to all those who believe in the rule of law.”

Maugham – who is the founder and director of the Good Law Project, which was behind a number of challenges to the Brexit process – said the bid to introduce such sweeping changes had caused alarm.

I suspect the Tories plan is to try to put government and executive action beyond legal scrutiny and to roll back human rights in a way usually seen in dictatorshipsJoanna Cherry QC

He said: “Boris Johnson really ought to be examining his own conduct – promising to ignore primary legislation, suspending parliament as an inconvenience – if he wants an explanation for the frequent reversals the Tories have suffered in the courts.

“The fact he’s responded to those losses by threatening to constrain judges will cause deep alarm to all those who believe in the rule of law.”

Cherry said if the UK government repealed the Human Rights Act (HRA) it would be more difficult for people to hold government to account. 

She said: “For so long as we remain party to the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights] it won’t be possible to roll back the human rights guarantees enshrined in the convention which include the right to a fair trial, protection from discrimination and the right to an effective remedy.

“But if the HRA is repealed it will be more difficult to enforce those rights in the domestic courts.” 

Voters will go to the polls on December 12 to choose a new government. 

The Tory manifesto says the judicial review process should be balanced between holding government to account and “ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays”.

It reads: “After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts; the functioning of the royal prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.

The Tory manifesto
The Tory manifesto pledge on justice 

“The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.

“We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays. In our first year we will set up a constitution, democracy and rights commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.”