Just what do the LibDems stand for? That’s a question the last four and a half years have raised over and over again.
And it was raised again this week – when they trooped through the lobbies to defeat the Lords’ amendments to Chris Grayling’s changes to Judicial Review.
Sadiq Khan called on the LibDems to join Labour in backing the Lords’ amendments.
And he was not alone in seeing the Coalition’s proposals as dangerous for freedom.
35 charities – among them such well known trouble makers as Age UK, the National Autistic Society, Mind and the Royal Mencap Society – were so disturbed by the implications of what the Coalition was proposing, that they joined together to warn that, should the Lords’ Amendments be defeated, they ‘could face punitive costs if they challenge government decisions in future.’
What is judicial review?
Essentially it allows citizens to appeal to the High Court if they believe a public body – including Government bodies – has done something unlawful.
People have had resort to Judicial Review on major questions – like the appeal against the closure of Lewisham Hospital
– and individual ones, like that of a severely disabled woman against eviction from her care home.
Judicial Review was also used in the defence of Leeds Children’s Heart Surgery. There supporters were able to show that the decision making process was “fundamentally unfair” because the hospital scoring system was not transparent.
Judicial Review is far from a perfect system – it’s expensive to start with.
But the Coalition’s changes have made it easier for public authority to escape legal challenge even when they behave improperly.
The Coalition’s proposals also have grave implications for charities and third sector organisations.
‘One clause threatens the ability of charities and NGOs with expertise to offer assistance to the court as ‘interveners’. The government proposes any organisation intervening to assist the court must generally pay all the costs incurred by the other parties in responding to it, except in ‘exceptional circumstances’, effectively reversing the current practice on costs.
There is no doubt that creating a substantial costs risk for interveners would have a chilling effect.’
As Labour’s Andy Slaughter puts it
‘The coalition government is guilty of many crimes since its creation in 2010. But by steamrollering through changes to judicial review, they are seeking to insulate themselves from challenge, and restrict the ability of the British people to hold to account future governments that break the law.’
The rights of the citizen to appeal against government – that’s essentially what’s at stake here.
You’d have thought this was a quintessential LibDem issue.
The sort of issue which LibDems used to jump up and down about in anger – freedom, liberty – that was what they were all about.
But – as with their support of the Gagging Law – this is apparently no longer the case.
That was then – when they were a professional opposition. This is now – when they stand apparently for little else than to remain seated – comfortably in their parliamentary seats and in Government.
Well, the Lords amendments were defeated – in a series of votes – thanks to the LibDems – who voted overwhelmingly with their Tory mates.
It’s yet another nail in the coffin of LibDem principles.
And our own LibDem MP, Greg Mulholland?
He was there, and he was in the lobbies, trooping through with his Tory friends, helping to sink the Lords’ amendments.
Whatever else he stands for, it’s clearly not LibDem principles – at least not as we used to understand them.