Sunday, 3 February 2013

Who shot JR?

Quality means doing it right when no-one is looking.

Few if any will meet Henry Ford’s benchmark, not all of the time. Mistakes happen. That’s life. But that’s when someone has to be asked to look, somebody with the power to exercise control – quality control.

Trite statement, but Government is no paragon yet wields huge responsibility for the consequences of its action, or inaction. A true democracy requires that executive wrongdoing may be brought swiftly and effectively into the open and cured.

Being judged every few years in the polls doesn’t perform this function. Insurrection is out of the question. 

The right way - the only way – is judicial review. Lawyers know it as “JR” – and someone’s taking a shot at it.

Our government is now moving to reform significantly the process whereby the state may be challenged by its subjects in the exercise of its administrative powers by independent judiciary with the clout to curb abuse and incompetence. The thrust of it is to reduce the numbers by, for example, almost quadrupling fees, slashing already short time limits, more rigorous ‘sifting’ i.e. rejection of applications before they even reach a public hearing.

The imperative is of course that we can’t afford it. We’re skint. Justice done and seen to be done is becoming a luxury (See Fun and games)

We’re in a spot, no question. We’re battling to keep the budget under control. The argument may run that in the midst of the battlefield, you don’t turn round and start questioning the orders – you do what you’re told and fight the good fight. If you’re going to get your head blown off let it be whilst you’re fighting, not while you’re arguing about how to fight.

There’s some force in that but there are also limits. Remember that Austrian bloke who worked wonders for the German economy in the nineteen-thirties but got a little carried away with it all?

This latest attack on independent scrutiny smacks again of an administration hell-bent on silencing opposition. It’s consistent with other assaults on access to justice.

See for example Kenneth Clarke’s clumsy attacks on victims of our failing health system (now in the spotlight again) rather than fixing the problem (See Legal highs, Repeat prescription)

See also the breathtakingly bold assaults on funding for what this government regards as ‘small’ claims (See Five grand), so obviously wrong that it has sparked application by APIL and MASS for, er, judicial review.

The increasing use of secondary legislation to make rules that deserve popular, not just political, debate is alarming. It’s all the more so when the process is afforded respectability by the now standard hurried ‘consultation’ followed by adoption and extension of proposals on a nemcon basis – at least if you disregard or don’t even seek the views of those who might or do disagree.

So far, the response to the JR proposals is remarkable for the breadth and diversity of their opponents. Adam Wagner's blog has collated a number of them.

JR is crucial to the integrity of our country’s administration and management. The way in which rules are made and implemented must remain open to objective scrutiny.

And not behind closed doors.

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