Dear Liberal Democrat MPs,
Tomorrow you will be asked for the second time amendments which the House of Lords has made to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. The Government wants you to severely restrict the right of citizens and organisations to use Judicial Review to examine its decisions and those of local authorities. This interferes with a key check on government power.
I don’t think any of you would have come up with this idea on your own. The Liberal Democrats are there to challenge entrenched power and vested interests, after all. This measure is one of those “messy compromises” of coalition.
Anyone who has ever been in any sort of relationship, business or personal, will know you don’t get things your own way the whole time. You have to do things you would rather not do. However, there have been a number of times when we have accepted Conservative measures and had to revise our support for them after they became law because the evidence showed that they were the wrong thing to do.
The most obvious example of this is on the “Bedroom Tax.” All the pre-legislative evidence suggested that it wouldn’t work. At least, when the first indications came in that those predictions were accurate, we revised our position, but it’s a road we should not have gone down in the first place.
It was also highly predictable that charging massive fees for employment tribunals would cut the number of cases they had to deal with. Just this week, Jo Swinson has had to chase up the review that the Conservative Justice Minister promised. Frankly, if you have suffered a clear cut case of discrimination at work, you may not have the £1200 necessary to bring your employer to justice. That is much more likely to affect women than men.
The third example I’d like to point out to you is the minimum income requirement which a British citizen has to earn to be allowed to bring their spouse to this country, which bears no relation to the skills or earnings potential of that spouse. Dan Rogerson has had to speak up for his constituent whose husband faces deportation to South Africa because she earns just £3000 a year below the threshold, despite the fact that her husband can easily earn enough to support the family.
Finally, two years ago you voted through provisions to allow evidence in civil cases to be heard in secret, unchallenged by the person suing the Government. That means that someone suing the UK Government for being complicit in their torture is not able to challenge the Government’s evidence. The CIA Report this week and the resulting Intelligence and Security Committee investigation gives us all further reason to question whether that was appropriate.
You might want to bear in mind that the last time you voted on this issue, a few weeks ago, Chris Grayling told you something that wasn’t true. This reform is much more absolute than he made out, meaning that people who have a genuine and legitimate grievance may not have their cases heard because the Judge has absolutely no discretion to allow it. This is not just and makes our society less fair.
The other Lords amendment which I think it is just as important to retain concerns secure colleges. When organisations like the NSPCC say that there’s a problem with allowing girls and under 15s into these places where they would be in a significant minority, then we need to take that seriously. What is the big deal with having another vote in Parliament before that can happen? It seems eminently sensible to me.
I know that the Liberal Democrats have held the Conservatives back on many issues relating to civil liberties and justice. We need to do so again. We can’t say that we stand for a fairer society when we pare back our citizens’ rights to challenge their Government. Please vote to keep the sensible, proportionate and just changes made by the Lords.