New Clause 5 - Evidence in judicial review proceedings

Judicial Review and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 23rd November 2021.

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“(1) Unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, no court shall—

(a) permit oral evidence to be elicited in judicial review proceedings; or

(b) order public bodies or any person exercising or entitled to exercise public authority to disclose evidence in anticipation of or in the course of judicial review proceedings,

(2) In relation to any judicial review proceedings, or in anticipation of any judicial review proceedings, in which a public body or a person exercising or entitled to exercise public authority argues, or indicates its intention to argue, that—

(a) the proceedings concern a matter that is non-justiciable, or

(b) that an enactment excludes or limits judicial review,

(3) In subsection (2), “evidential duty” means any principle of law or rule of court touching the identification of relevant facts or reasoning underlying the measure or other matter in respect of which judicial review is sought, or any order of the court to adduce oral or other evidence.

(4) Nothing in subsection (2) or (3) affects an evidential duty that may arise in relation to judicial review proceedings other than in relation to a measure or other matter that is argued to be non-justiciable or to be excluded from judicial review by legislation.”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause deals with evidence. Again, it has been deemed by the Clerks to be in scope and it would therefore be an appropriate addition to the Bill. It is very much in the spirit of my previous remarks.

It is important to understand that the new clause has two parts. Subsection (1) aims to limit the extent to which judicial review proceedings involve the testing of evidence and a resolution disputing questions of fact. The traditional view is that judicial review proceedings are an inappropriate forum in which to solicit or test evidence because it is a supervisory jurisdiction that should focus on questions of law rather than questions of fact. That was its well-understood basis for a considerable period of time.

As well as the changing character of the courts’ role in relation to the legislature, there has also been a change in the application of judicial review in respect of evidence. The courts ought to be focusing on the legality of decisions taken and whether it stands up to appropriate levels of scrutiny. That is the business of a judicial review. Allowing disclosure and cross-examination could lead to litigation becoming an exercise whereby new material is introduced on a fishing expedition. Rather than testing the proper exercise of powers, as judicial review is supposed to do, it could lead to the whole character of a case being revisited and perhaps the introduction of new evidence that was not pertinent to the original decision or even known to the original decision makers. That is not its role, and the Bill is a perfect opportunity to address that distortion of its original character and purpose.

As the Minister has told us a number of times, the Bill aims to tighten the judicial review process and essentially re-establish its pertinence, salience and purpose. The new clause would do exactly that. The change in practice has arisen partly because of overarching legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998. There is a case for the wholehearted reform of the Human Rights Act, or its abolition altogether. However, this is not the place to have that debate—although, I understand that the Lord Chancellor has spoken on those matters and is considering addressing them in the House in due course. The point to be made here and now is that the Act has spilled over into judicial review decisions. It is clear that in recent years judicial review using the Act has become an opportunity to have a much wider debate and discussion than this legal mechanism originally intended—the original purpose was to check the correctness of decision making.

Subsection (2) of new clause 5 addresses the problem that arises when judicial proceedings are used to force public bodies to disclose information even in contexts where the public body argues that the law forbids judicial review. If a matter is non-justiciable, or if legislation ousts judicial review, the public body will not be compelled to disclose evidence simply because litigation is threatened or initiated. The clause will require courts to decide whether the matter is justiciable or whether legislation permits judicial review before the public body will have any duty to disclose information relevant to litigation.

New clause 5 would not allow any litigation that should not. Those are cases in which the matter is justiciable and no ouster clause forbids judicial review. It would require courts to make decisions in the right order, avoiding the risk that was apparent in the Supreme Court’s Prorogation judgment: that the courts are led astray by the evidence before them rather than focusing squarely on the question of law that they should decide. The Miller judgment was exceptional and, in my judgment, perverse. It is fundamental to our constitution that the appointment of Ministers, the Dissolution of Parliament and, by extension, Prorogation are matters for the Executive and not the courts.

One might argue that when the Supreme Court was established—it was a sorry day, Mr Rosindell, but you will not allow me to debate that at great length here, and nor will I—this was almost bound to happen: that the very existence of the Supreme Court would encourage those who sit on it to extend their powers into matters of what the Attorney General called “high politics”. That apart, the Prorogation judgment was a naked example of the courts making a constitutional decision in a way that is appropriate only for this elected House, our Parliament—both because we are answerable to the people and because, as I said earlier, our legitimacy derives from the people. This is about proper process, but it touches on the broader issue of the respective roles of the judiciary, the Executive and the legislature—the separation of powers to which I referred in an earlier sitting.

The Minister will again, I hope, recognise that the new clause is very much in the spirit that he set out when he made it clear that the Government want judicial review to be what it was always intended to be and has been for most of its life, rather than something very different, which is what it has become. With that in mind, I hope that he will give the new clause, which is significant but not in any way out of keeping with the Bill’s intent, a fair wind. Rather than, as last time, offering me a meeting—although I was very grateful for that meeting—I hope that this time he will say that the Government accept it, and will at a later stage introduce a Government amendment.

I do not necessarily expect the Minister to accept the new clause as drafted; he will want his draftsmen to take a close look at it, and often parliamentary draftsmen are able to a better job than I ever could, even with the assistance of my cerebral hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich. The Minister may want to look at the detail of this, but I hope that he will at the very least give it wholehearted consideration, perhaps with a view to the Government coming back with their own thoughts on how we might look at the issue of evidence, and how it is properly used in judicial review.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 3:30 pm, 23rd November 2021

I give full credit to the right hon. Gentleman, who has taken the new clause, important and substantial though it is, and turned it almost into a Queen’s Speech. We will have a second judicial review Bill, a repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998, and then a repeal of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The Minister will be a very busy man in the new year.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

We will see. Unfashionably, I will confine my comments to new clause 5, which restricts disclosure by public bodies and the use of oral evidence in judicial review proceedings to circumstances where there are “compelling reasons”. In addition, under subsection (2), if a public body argues, or indicates its intention to argue, in relation to or in anticipation of any judicial review proceedings, that the proceedings concern a matter that is non-justiciable or that review is excluded by an enactment, the public body will not be subject to any evidential duty at all until a court regards the matter to be reviewable.

Subsection (1) relates to disclosure orders, which are already limited by the courts. Additional legislative provision is unnecessary and may reduce clarity and cause unnecessary litigation. Oral evidence is rarely used in judicial review proceedings. However, the courts retain a discretion to permit oral evidence where it is considered necessary to do so. Judges use that discretion appropriately and frequently deny requests to adduce oral evidence unless it would, in fact, be necessary for the case at hand. Applications for oral evidence can be made by claimants and defendants in judicial review claims, and there is no indication that the impact on public authorities has been thought through. The system works well, generally respecting the unique nature of judicial review while allowing parties—both claimants and public bodies—to adduce oral evidence in rare cases where it is necessary to do so. There is no indication that there is a problem with the system that the proposals seek to address.

The new clause goes beyond oral evidence and imposes a bar on judges ordering disclosure of evidence. There is no formal disclosure duty on parties in judicial review proceedings, unless the court orders otherwise. Such orders are already rare and there are many examples of courts refusing applications for disclosure on the basis that they are not necessary. Indeed, the court will not countenance fishing expeditions, where an applicant for judicial review may not have a positive case to make against an administrative decision and wishes to obtain disclosure of documents in the hope of finding something to use to fashion a possible challenge. Where the disclosure power is used by courts, however rarely, it is vital: a judge will only ever order disclosure where it is necessary for the fair resolution of the case.

It is unclear what adding a requirement of “compelling reasons” for ordering disclosures of evidence would do to the existing position. The current test, as set out by Lord Bingham in Tweed v. Parades Commission for Northern Ireland, is:

“whether, in the given case, disclosure appears to be necessary in order to resolve the matter fairly and justly.”

On one reading, that would be just an alternative translation of the existing position: a “compelling reason” for adducing oral evidence would be that it is “necessary” to do so. If that is the case, the proposed additional clause is a clear waste of time. However, if it is intended to be a stricter test to raise the threshold for which evidence is admissible, that is problematic in that it would operate to preclude disclosure of evidence required to resolve the case fairly and justly. That would clearly be to the detriment of the parties and the wider public, and therefore should be resisted.

It is also important to note that disclosure of evidence benefits not only the claimant but often the public body, by allowing the defendant public body to show that the decision taken was lawful. Defendant public bodies may also make applications for disclosure and/or oral evidence. Subsection (1) would reduce the ability for claimants to obtain disclosure, which is crucial for claimants to be able to bring a case as well as for defendants to be able to defend it.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is setting out what the new clause does, but he will understand that at its heart is the determination that judicial review should look at the specifics of an individual case, rather than a systemic consideration of the whole administrative system. In recent times, because of the courts’ willingness to draw on all kinds of evidence, they have tended to broaden the scope of their work in a systemic fashion. What does he think about that and what should we do about it?

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not agree that that is what is happening. Even if he had a point there, I am trying to make the point, by looking at the changes that his new clause would make, that there are already safeguards in the system to prevent that and that the rules are tightly drawn in relation to evidence and disclosure. The courts do have discretion, but they use that appropriately and reservedly.

Any limitation of the disclosure of evidence, as well as oral evidence, beyond the current test risks undermining the effectiveness of judicial review proceedings for all parties. The current form of judicial review, which has limited disclosure requirements on the parties, works only because the parties are subject to duties of candour. In many respects, the disclosure obligations, where parties must submit all relevant evidence and information relating to the case to the court, ensure that the duty of candour is complied with. In the vast majority of cases, both parties comply fully with the duty of candour, but on the rare occasions when they do not, the judge’s disclosure powers can be used to ensure proper compliance.

In cases where the duty of candour would be limited by the proposals in subsection (2), which I will come to, the basis for limited disclosure requirements falls away. The combination of subsections (1) and (2) may mean that a claimant in a case is faced with the inability to obtain any disclosure at any point from a public body.

In effect, weakening those disclosure powers weakens the duty of candour, which is a vital aspect of fairness in judicial review. If public bodies feel that they do not need to comply with the duty, it will severely weaken the position of claimants, contribute to an inequality of arms in judicial review proceedings and risk completely barring, in practice, the ability for the claimant to bring a judicial review. For all sorts of reasons, including funding, the tight restrictions on bringing claims and the difficulties of bringing claims, there are already substantial problems for any claimant in beginning judicial review proceedings.

Subsection (2) would enable a public authority to effectively disapply the evidential duties, including the duty of candour, by indicating its intention to argue that the matter is not justiciable. That would make many cases completely un-triable. As I have said, the current form of judicial review, with limited fact-finding and disclosure requirements, works only because the parties are subject to a duty of candour. The duty requires a “cards on the table” approach and, as has been noted,

“the vast majority of the cards will start in the authority’s hands”.

For claimants to have the ability to get over the starting line and bring judicial review proceedings, the defendant body must be subject to the duty of candour. The duty ensures that all relevant information and material facts are before the court, and that any information or material facts that either support or undermine their case are disclosed.

As the “Administrative Court Judicial Review Guide” recognises, compliance with the duty of candour is “very important”. It helps to resolve matters efficiently and effectively. By requiring both parties to undertake full disclosure of relevant information early on in proceedings, it allows for a proper assessment of the merits of the case. That can help public bodies show claimants early on evidence that the decision was taken lawfully, which can lead to an early settlement, withdrawal of the challenge or at least the narrowing of the issues in dispute. That avoids substantial unnecessary costs and use of court time.

New clause 5 should have no place in the Bill. Subsection (2) would enable public authorities to disapply the duty of candour where they indicate their intention to argue that the matter is not justiciable. When this is combined with increased difficulty with accessing evidence through disclosure orders, set out by subsection (1), claimants will be denied access to evidence required to advance their case, making many cases unworkable. I therefore hope that the Minister will also resist the new clause.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

It is a pleasure to grace this Committee again through a contribution, and to support my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings on new clause 5. It is obviously not related to new clause 3. We did attempt to table other new clauses, but we were unsuccessful because they were deemed to be out of scope, but many of those new clauses were, in fact, not dissimilar to or disconnected from new clauses 3 and 5.

In terms of whether different Lord Chancellors are mild korma or vindaloo, I am usually a korma man, but when it comes to review, I am perhaps more vindaloo, because I think that we do need some significant changes in this area.

I very much welcome the Bill, which, with or without these new clauses, is a significant step in the right direction. I have been pleased to sit through all our sittings in support of the Bill, and I think that the Minister has led proceedings very effectively. It has been quite interesting, because although I do not profess to be a lawyer—I am not a trained lawyer or professional—I am an elected Member of Parliament who cares about my constituents and my constituency, but also about this country and the relationship between the Executive, the legislature and the courts, which is vitally important. I make no apology for commenting on these matters and getting involved, because I think it is very important that elected Members of Parliament do so.

We are very lucky to have our judiciary, and the rule of law in this country is respected all over, but some of these figures can be remarkably prickly—and I have noticed that many seem invariably to have the EU flag on their Twitter profiles. I think there is almost a view that elected Members of Parliament are knuckle-draggers who are not entitled to have a view on a lot of these issues. Well, I disagree. I think that when it comes to matters such as sentencing and the operation of the courts, we as elected Members of Parliament, regardless of our specific views, should absolutely be confident to air them and should not be intellectually intimidated by certain individuals.

I sympathise with the broader view about judges assessing law and procedure, rather than getting sucked into contested facts, and about how evidence sessions can sometimes draw them away from their core function and into dangerous waters. There are many cases. The Adams case is connected to new clause 6 so we will not discuss that, but there is an obvious connection between it, the Miller case and the Privacy International case, which we discussed earlier, and that is the creeping role of the courts beyond their brief and scope, and I think that that has damaging consequences. In the Adams case, in terms of the debate on whether it is enough for a Minister or a Secretary of State to make a decision, I really struggle to agree that it is for judges to decide what is appropriate against established Acts of Parliament. That does not make any sense to me. I think that clarity in this area—and Parliament, through legislation, clarifying the relationship between the Executive, the legislature and the courts—is vitally important.

I go back to this point. I do not see anything that I or my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings have said as being anti the judiciary or the rule of law. We appreciate that they are vitally important and how skilled and learned those individuals are. But I think we were all quite disturbed by some of the Brexit debates. We had the Miller cases in relation to triggering article 50 and Prorogation, and that Daily Mail front page with members of the Supreme Court under the headline, “Enemies of the People”. I think that many of us were disturbed by that, and that is what we want to avoid going forward. We do not want that to be the case again. The danger is that unless there is great clarity about what is and is not appropriate for the courts to get involved in, that could happen again, and we do not want that. This is not about us pointing at the judiciary and the courts and blaming them for any of this. We need to be conscious that we need a clear framework that gets that balance right.

I will leave my comments there. It has been a great pleasure to be part of this Bill Committee, which is now coming to a close, and to support this Bill and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Encouraged by the Minister, I have decided that I will say a few words, even if none of them are original. Most of what I have to say is in agreement with the hon. Member for Hammersmith, but it is good to put the opposition of the SNP on the record.

What would this new clause do? Unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, this new clause would prohibit the use of oral evidence in judicial review and would also prevent courts from ordering any public body to disclose evidence in anticipation or during the course of judicial review proceedings. As we have heard, oral evidence is already rarely used in judicial review proceedings, but the courts retain a discretion to permit oral evidence where it is considered essential to the case. My understanding is that judges use that discretion appropriately, and frequently deny requests to cite oral evidence unless, as I have said, it is considered essential to the case. I am not aware of any indication that the system has the problem that the proposals seek to address.

I wonder what adding a requirement for compelling reasons would do to the existing position. It could be that that is just an alternative translation of the existing position. One compelling reason for adducing oral evidence would be that it is necessary to do so. If that is the case, the new clause is not needed. If the proposed compelling reasons requirement is seen to raise the threshold for which oral evidence is admissible, I think we should all find that problematic. Judges are already only allowing such evidence when it is considered necessary to do so. The clear result of the proposed change would be that oral evidence that is necessary for the fair resolution of the case would not be admitted. That surely cannot be acceptable to the Minister.

New clause 5 would also bar judges from ordering disclosure of evidence. Again, such disclosure is used only when absolutely essential. Judges order disclosure only when that disclosure is vital to resolve the case fairly. In many respects, the disclosure obligations act as a way of ensuring that the duty of candour is complied with where parties must submit to the court all relevant evidence and information relating to the case. In the vast majority of cases, both parties will comply, but where they do not the judge can ensure compliance by using disclosure powers. Weakening those disclosure powers would, in effect, weaken the duty of candour, which is a vital aspect of fairness in judicial review. If public bodies and Governments believe that they do not need to comply with that duty, the position of claimants would be severely weakened in judicial review proceedings. We should increase access to justice, not make it increasingly pointless.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady, who made some perfectly reasonable points. It is disappointing that she did not rise to the bait by entering into the curry-labelling discussion instigated by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich is a vindaloo—I think he is a phaal. Anyone who googles that will find that it is the hottest curry there is. Maybe my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings is a phaal as well. It is inevitable, then, that they all think the Bill does not go phaal enough. As a great fan of curry, I generally go for the specials on the à la Cart menu. [Laughter.] That was not a reference to clause 2, by the way.

In new clause 5, my right hon. Friend is probing in his uniquely penetrating way of gaining the Committee’s attention and focusing on some important points. I will try to set out why, although there is merit in what he says, it is not right for this precise moment—perhaps with further work, not least as there may be other potential routes to achieving his end.

The new clause would amend the Bill to include some specific rules relating to disclosure and the duty of candour in judicial review cases. The clause would do three things. First, it would remove the ability of the court to permit oral evidence to be given unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary. Secondly, it would remove the ability of the court to order a public authority to disclose evidence at all, either in anticipation of proceedings or during proceedings, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary. Thirdly, in cases where a public authority is arguing that the subject matter is non-justiciable altogether or judicial review jurisdiction has been ousted, it would remove any evidential requirement on the public authority until the court has ruled on the subject of justiciability or jurisdiction.

The duty of candour is a common law concept that obliges parties in judicial review proceedings to disclose information relevant to the case. The independent review of administrative law examined that duty when it conducted a call for evidence last year. Legal practitioners and other stakeholders identified issues relating to a lack of clarity surrounding the exact extent and precise nature of the obligations arising from the duty. The independent review concluded that the duty of candour may have previously been interpreted in a way that causes a disproportionate burden on public authorities, and that there would be benefit in clarifying the parameters of the duty. The Government would like to ensure that the duty of candour is not invoked by claimants to rouse political debates or to discover extraneous information that would have otherwise been kept confidential.

I reassure my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich that this remains very much a live issue for the Government. The difference here, I suspect, is not a question of objective, but of how best to achieve it. The independent review recommended that the issue could be addressed through changes to the Treasury Solicitor’s guidance. Although that is, of course, a matter for the Treasury Solicitor, the advantage to using guidance to address some of the issues that have occurred with the duty of candour in the past is that it can be more flexible and dynamic than legislation.

As I have already indicated, the Government remain open-minded about the possibility of going further on judicial review reform in time. Although my instinct continues to be that any issues with the operation of the duty of candour are better addressed through other means, and not through primary legislation, I will reflect on the arguments that my right hon. Friend has made for a legislative response. We have already discussed the point of the meeting. I am quite clear that that could be wide-ranging and could include this discussion, too. They all fit within the same theme, which he has painted with a broad brush today. I am quite happy to look at it in those terms, but also in more specific terms, particularly with the benefit of officials and so on.

In the light of the complexity of the issues at stake, and the importance of getting the legislation right, I cannot accept my right hon. Friend’s new clause. I hope that, with my reassurance that that the Government will continue to actively consider the matter, he will agree to withdraw it.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I am grateful to the Minister for again offering further discussion on these subjects. I am also pleased that he is considering other means to achieve the objectives that I set out. He is right that the independent review addressed these matters and, by the way, did so on the basis that I described: that by taking wide evidence judicial review was rehearsing decisions rather than checking on the exercise of them. Judicial review is about ensuring that, in the exercise of decision making, all has been done properly. It is not about reheating wide-ranging contextual arguments.

The problem with collecting oral evidence in a permissive way is that it is bound to lead to just that. That was identified by Professor Ekins and others, in the evidence that they gave us and beyond. The Minister is right to consider through guidance how that could be altered. Statutory guidance would be a very effective way of doing it, providing that his officials and others are confident that it is sufficient. There is always a balance to be struck between primary legislation and guidance, and we need to be clear that it will be sufficient in this case.

We talked a little about how jurisprudence has moved on, and in particular the Miller case. In the end, the decision of the Supreme Court in that case meant that it, in the words of the Attorney General,

“stepped into matters of high policy in which the UK courts have historically held themselves to have no constitutional role.”

That is a direct quote from the Government’s most senior Law Officer. In the two new clauses, and in those that were not selected because they were deemed not to be in scope, and which I will therefore not discuss, I have tried to make the case that the Bill is very welcome, but it is a korma rather than a vindaloo. It is certainly not a madras. It can be more varied and hotter, to develop the metaphor. I can match the Minister blow for blow in terms of my grasp of Indian cuisine.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice)

On a point of information, my right hon. Friend must be aware that a madras is technically milder than a vindaloo, but a vindaloo is certainly milder than a phaal.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

That is true, but I see the Minister as something between the two. He is more of a jalfrezi—spicy, lively and deeply satisfying, in terms of his response to my new clauses at least.

It is worth drawing attention to the remarks of Lord Sumption, who of course commented on exactly these matters in his Reith lecture. Jonathan Sumption is the judge who, perhaps more than any other, has set out the proper functions of the courts in relation to Parliament. In his Reith lecture, he said:

“It is the proper function of the courts to stop Government exceeding or abusing their legal powers.”

That is exactly the role of judicial review, by the way. He continued:

“Allowing judges to circumvent parliamentary legislation, or review the merits of policy decisions for which Ministers are answerable to Parliament, raises quite different issues. It confers vast discretionary powers on a body of people who are not constitutionally accountable for what they do. It also undermines the single biggest advantage of the political process, which is to accommodate the divergent interests and opinions of citizens.”

He went on to say in that lecture that it was about developing the right kind of political culture. It is appropriate that the political culture that underpins our deliberations in this place is a means by which views can be mitigated and ameliorated, where necessary, in a way that courts cannot do because of their character and function. I remain of Jonathan Sumption’s view that much needs to be done to put right what the courts have got wrong in recent years, and I stand alongside the Attorney General in her determination to do that.

Although I understand that the Bill is not sufficiently wide-ranging to do all that I want it to do, there is scope for the Government to do more in respect of the new clause and new clause 3. I am grateful that the Minister has implicitly acknowledged that by welcoming further discussion.

On the new clause that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich—I will just say, as the Minister did, that my hon. Friend is an outstanding Member of Parliament and the people of Ipswich should be proud to have him—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.