Reports of bid to curtail court review powers not accurate, suggests No 10

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Reports that ministers want to curtail the ability of judges to review ministers’ decisions in the courts are not accurate, Downing Street has said.

A report in The Times suggested the Prime Minister was keen to tighten the conditions for the courts to overrule decisions by ministers via the judicial review process.

It comes after a showdown in the Supreme Court over Boris Johnson’s proposals to prorogue Parliament for five weeks during the Brexit negotiations in 2019 – a move judges ruled was unlawful.

The Times said Mr Johnson had ordered Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to toughen plans to reform the power of judges to rule on the legality of ministerial decisions.

One option drawn up by Attorney General Suella Braverman, according to the newspaper, was said to include an annual “interpretation bill” to strike out findings from judicial reviews with which the government does not agree.

Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Steve Reed, and shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, said the reports were “all about the Henry VIII fantasies of a Prime Minister” who, they said, “thinks none of the rules the rest of us have to live by should ever be applied to him”.

But No 10 called the claims speculation and said Mr Johnson was “not looking to take” the approach set out in the press.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, asked whether there were plans to bring in a so-called interpretation bill, said: “That’s not an accurate characterisation of the action we are taking.”

Attorney General Suella Braverman was reportedly looking into setting up a mechanism for striking out judicial reviews annually
Attorney General Suella Braverman was reportedly looking into setting up a mechanism for striking out judicial reviews annually (James Manning/PA)

He added: “What we are doing is, through our Judicial Review and Courts Bill, is to defend the judiciary from being drawn into political questions and preserve the integrity of judicial review for its intended purpose, which is to hold the Government to account, apply the intent of Parliament and protect individuals.

“This is what we are focused on and that’s the action that the Government is looking to take.

“We think this is striking the right balance. We fully respect the constitutional position of judges and the judiciary, and it is part of the Government’s role to protect that position.”

Asked whether further measures, as per the report, could be needed, the spokesman replied: “The Prime Minister is not looking to take that approach”.

Pressed on whether that meant he was suggesting the report was not true, the Downing Street official said: “Yes. I’m pointing to what action we are taking in this area, which we believe is the proportional approach.”