Worried about what the Tories are doing to our democracy? You should be

by Ann Higgins

After the party conferences Parliament will have plenty to think about in the run-up to Christmas and sadly little of it good for those of us who value democracy.

  1. The now notorious PSCS Bill is presently going through its committee stage in the House of Lords, which comprises eight sittings finishing on 15 November. Then it will go back to the Commons for it to consider whatever amendments have been passed by the Lords. Major concerns remain about the attack it makes upon the right to peaceful protest and assembly – more detail from Jolyon Maugham QC of the Good Law Project here.
  • Also under consideration is what they are calling “modernising” the Official Secrets Act by abolishing the “public interest” defence and the defence that no harm was done. It will matter not that we ought to know that Hancock is breaching social distancing laws with an “advisor” on our time, or that a disclosure did no damage. Both whistle-blower and reporter will be as guilty as if they had sold our nuclear secrets to the highest bidder. The Guardian, July 2021
  • And by the time this newsletter finds its way to you the Elections Bill may well have become law possibly disenfranchising millions who have no access to photo ID as we discussed in a previous edition of this newsletter. The Bill also hands control of the previously independent Electoral Commission to the “Speaker’s committee” which will have its composition changed to give the government control of the committee and thus the way in which the Electoral Commission will decide on its priorities. It also gives the minister in charge of the Cabinet Office [currently Michael Gove] the power to decree retrospectively that spending by special interest groups was “electoral” and as it was undeclared, criminal, leaving the leaders of that group potentially liable to a criminal record and fine. It is inevitable that, like the PSCS Bill clauses on protests, it will have a deterrent effect on all those wishing to campaign against the government. The Guardian, September 2021
  • And finally [we hope] also in the pipeline are the new Deputy PM’s/Justice Secretary’s/Lord Chancellor’s plans to “reform” judicial review which will limit its scope and if passed will stop orders being made “retrospective” even if the claimant is successful. So by all means try to quash an unlawful decision made by the government but even if you win you lose. More worrying still is his recent announcement that he wants to introduce a “mechanism” whereby “incorrect” court decisions may be corrected. As pointed out by legal blogger David Allen Green, such a mechanism already exists: it’s called Parliament. And challenging “political” decisions like the illegal prorogation of Parliament will be taken out of the court’s power’s entirely in their Judicial Review and Courts Bill. The Law and Policy Blog, October 2021

As Mr Allen Green is fond of saying: Brace, brace.

PS As we go to press, the movement against the government’s proposed changes to JR has gained a valuable ally in ex Tory minister David Davis who has vowed to lead the fight against the proposals calling them a worrying assault on the legal system and attempt to avoid accountability. The Guardian, October 2021

Featured image: Maaria Lohiya on Unsplash