Thursday, October 31, 2013

Beware the kite-flyers on surveillance, legal aid, judicial review

Retired Appeal Court judge, Stephen Sedley, is always good value. I'd recommend his "Beware Kite-Flyers" piece in the London Review of Books Vol. 35 No. 17 · 12 September 2013 pages 13-16. It is ostensibly a review of The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction by Martin Loughlin
Oxford, 152 pp, £7.99, April, ISBN 978 0 19 969769 4.  

"a statutory surveillance regime shrouded in secrecy, part of a growing constitutional model which has led some of us to wonder whether the tripartite separation of powers – legislature, judiciary, executive – conventionally derived from Locke, Montesquieu and Madison still holds good. The security apparatus is today able in many democracies to exert a measure of power over the other limbs of the state that approaches autonomy: procuring legislation which prioritises its own interests over individual rights, dominating executive decision-making, locking its antagonists out of judicial processes and operating almost free of public scrutiny. The arbitrary use of sweeping powers of detention, search and interrogation created by the (pre-9/11) Terrorism Act, which recently made headlines with the detention of David Miranda at Heathrow, illustrates a long-term shift both in what is constitutionally permissible and in what is constitutionally acceptable. The former may be a matter for Parliament, but the latter is still a matter for the rest of us."
He is also scathing about the Blair government's "making the Lord Chancellorship a secondary occupation of the new secretary of state for justice" and the current government's cynical exploitation of that change to dismantle our legal aid and judicial review processes.
"The decision in 2012 to put a political enforcer, Chris Grayling, in charge of the legal system carried a calculated message: the rule of law was from now on, like everything else, going to be negotiable. The incoming legal aid reforms were introduced by a consultation paper which gave a dismissively short time for responses and parodied its own case for attenuating legal aid by pointing out that people affected by unlawful state action ‘may represent themselves in court, seek to resolve issues by themselves, pay for services which support self-resolution, pay for private representation or decide not to tackle the issue at all’. This is an argument not for modifying or reducing legal aid but for abolishing it, something the Treasury has wished it could do for half a century, but which the consultation paper, describing legal aid as a ‘hallmark of a fair, open justice system’, purports not to support.Instead, Grayling’s proposal is to undermine judicial review by starving claimants of legal aid on several fronts...
In recent years a practice has developed – routinely denied by ministers but privately confirmed by their civil servants – of flying kites as lightning conductors: a consultation paper or a bill will include an outrageous proposal which government neither needs nor particularly wants (an example in the legal aid consultation was the proposal, now dropped, to deny criminal defendants any choice in the lawyer to represent them). When it has served its purpose of distracting attention from other objectionable provisions, it can be abandoned. The trouble is that there are so many other objectionable proposals in the current legal aid consultation, it’s not easy to know which, if any, of them are kites. What we do know is what the 145 barristers who, as members of the attorney-general’s panels, argue cases on behalf of the central state, wrote to him in their joint letter: ‘We consider that the proposals in the consultation paper will undermine the accountability of public bodies to the detriment of society as a whole and the vulnerable in particular.’"

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