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Ministers warned over rule changes
The UK's most senior judge has warned the Government to take "particular care" when considering changes to a legal process which allows people to challenge decisions by public bodies.
Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said ministers should be "very careful" about cutting down people's right to seek judicial review.
He said courts had "no more important function" than protecting citizens from the abuses and excesses of public authorities.
Lord Neuberger said in a lecture that Government proposals aimed to cost and delay involved in judicial review applications.
"The desire to discourage weak applications is understandable, even, laudable, and the desire to reduce delay and expense is plainly right, at least in principle," he said, when delivering the annual Tom Sargant Memorial Lecture, organised by London- based legal campaign group Justice.
"However, one must be very careful about any proposals whose aim is to cut down the right to judicial review. The courts have no more important function than that of protecting citizens from the abuses and excesses of the executive - central government, local government, or other public bodies.
"With the ever-increasing power of Government, which now commands almost half the country's gross domestic product, this function of calling the executive to account could not more important.
"I am not suggesting that we have a dysfunctional or ill- intentioned executive, but the more power that a government has, the more likely it is that there will be abuses and excesses which result in injustice to citizens, and the more important it is for the rule of law that such abuses and excesses can be brought before an impartial and experienced judge who can deal with them openly, dispassionately and fairly.
"While the Government is entitled to look at the way that judicial review is operating and to propose improvements, we must look at any proposed changes with particular care, because of the importance of maintaining judicial review, and also bearing in mind that the proposed changes come from the very body which is at the receiving end of judicial review."
Lord Neuberger also warned of the harm Government cuts to the legal aid budget might do.
"Cutting the cost of legal aid deprives the very people who most need the protection of the courts of the ability to get legal advice and representation," he said.
"That is true whether one reduces the types of claim which qualify for legal aid or increases the stringency of the requirements of eligibility for legal aid. The recent changes have done both."
He added: "If a person with a potential claim cannot get legal aid, there are two possible consequences. The first is that the claim is dropped: that is a rank denial of justice and a blot on the rule of law. The second is that the claim is pursued, in which case it will be pursued inefficiently, and will take up much more of the court staff's time and of the judge's time in and out of court. So that it means greater costs for the court system, and delay for other litigants."