“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 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 & 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.”
Boris Johnson has said that his favourite film scene is “the multiple retribution killings at the end of the Godfather”.
It is worth bearing that in mind when contemplating the sprawling paragraph above from the Conservative Manifesto.
Its contents are strikingly permissive – giving carte blanche to a Commission, consisting of and to be chaired by a person or persons unknown, to make recommendations on the Commons, the Lords, Westminster, Whitehall, and in particular judicial review and human rights.
On that last point, we hope it gets to grips with the relationship between Parliament and the ECHR. For if reform doesn’t come, a new Conservative Government won’t be able to get properly to grips with the full causes of London Bridge murders – and part of the terror threat.
But above all, what leaps out of this section for us is that the Prime Minister appears to have the Supreme Court and senior judges in his sights.
Johnson will not have forgotten that the Court has ruled twice against the Government – the second time when he was Prime Minister. That it inadvertedly aided Brexit the first time round may be irrelevant to him.
He will remember Lady Hale, that spider badge – and her swipe at him over “girly swots”. More pertinently, he will have in mind the court’s constitutionally illterate decision over prorogation.
There are two known policy routes forward if the judiciary is not simply to be left well alone. One is to scrap the Supreme Court, revive the Law Lords and return to the status quo ante. The other is to have Parliamentary hearings for senior judges.
Party members tilt strongly towards the first if our surveys are anything to go by. We suspect that Johnson himself has no fixed view, but believes that Something Must Be Done.
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Author: Paul Goodman
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