Brexit to bedroom tax: judicial reviews that went against the government

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Judicial reviews have been used to successfully challenge decisions made by the government and other bodies in key areas. Here are some examples of recent ones.


In 2016, the high court ruled that parliament had to give its consent before the government could trigger article 50 and formally initiate Brexit, prompting criticism by ministers and the infamous Daily Mail “Enemies of the people” headline. The decision was upheld by the supreme court, which in 2019 would rule that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament during the Brexit crisis was unlawful, again angering the government.

Tribunal fees

In 2017, the supreme court ruled that employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 were inconsistent with access to justice, forcing the Ministry of Justice to scrap the fees and entitling those who had already paid them to a refund. In the judicial review brought by the trade union Unison, the judges also found that the fees were contrary to the Equality Act 2010 as they disproportionately affected women.

Worboys parole

Three high court judges forced the Parole Board to reconsider its controversial decision to release the serial sex attacker John Worboys from prison after a case brought by two unnamed victims. In its 2018 decision, the judges said the board panel should have considered the full circumstances of Worboys’ offending. He was jailed indefinitely in 2009 with a minimum term of eight years after being found guilty of 19 offences, but police believe he committed crimes against 105 women between 2002 and 2008, when he was caught. This was a rare case when the government supported the judicial review decision, with the chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, forced to quit as a result of the ruling after the then justice secretary, David Gauke, said his position was “untenable”. A reassessment by the board concluded Worboys should remain in jail.

Bedroom tax

The government’s attempts to force the bedroom tax on partners of people with severe disabilities, which would have reduced their housing benefit by 14% for having a “spare” room, was ruled unlawful by the supreme court in 2019. The judges said that applying the reduction to a man referred to only as RR was a breach of his right to a home under the Human Rights Act. They said RR’s partner was severely disabled so “it is accepted” that the couple needed an extra bedroom for her medical equipment. The effect was to restore full housing benefit to RR, and at least 155 other partners of disabled people.

Facial recognition technology

The court of appeal ruled in 2020 that the use of facial recognition technology by South Wales police breached privacy rights and broke equalities law. Ed Bridges, a civil liberties campaigner, brought the case, arguing that the capturing of thousands of faces by the Welsh force was indiscriminate and disproportionate. Allowing his appeal, the court found that Bridges’ right to privacy under article 8 of the European convention on human rights had been breached because there was “too broad a discretion” left to police officers in applying the technology. The judges also concluded the force breached their public sector equalities duty by failing to properly investigate whether the facial recognition algorithms were biased in terms of race or sex.

PPE ‘VIP lane’

In January, the government’s operation of a “VIP lane” for suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic was found to be illegal by a high court judge, amid allegations of cronyism. Mrs Justice O’Farrell found in favour of the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor, who together challenged the lawfulness of the way billions of pounds worth of contracts were awarded through the high priority lane. However, despite ruling that the health and social care secretary’s direct award of contracts for the supply of PPE and medical devices to PestFix and Ayand was unlawful preferential treatment, the judge said it was “highly likely” they would have been awarded even if proper procedures had been followed.