The Rule of Law

18 Jul 2014

It has been a bad couple of weeks for the Rule of Law.

In 2011 the government introduced regulations requiring those claiming Job Seekers Allowance to work unpaid for commercial organisations contracted to the government; the so-called Sector Based Work Academies (if it wasn't so sad the nomenclature would be worthy of a Gilbert & Sullivan Operetta). Litigation kicked off after a claimant was refused benefits because she preferred to further her career in museums by taking a voluntary role in Birmingham's Pen Museum ( instead of unpaid work in a Pound shop.

In February 2013 the Court of Appeal ruled the regulations Ultra Vires and quashed them. In March 2013 the government fast-tracked legislation through parliament to retrospectively validate the regulations and the (unlawful) sanctions they imposed. It also appealed to the Supreme Court which dismissed the appeal in October.

On 4 July the High Court ruled the new legislation unlawful and in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights because it penalises claimants for conduct that was lawful at the time of their action. The government has said it will appeal and it will not pay benefits (unlawfully) withheld.

Then on 15 July the High Court gave judgement in a different case concerning a residence test imposed by the Lord Chancellor. The Court found the test to be unlawful, discriminatory and unjustified. Lord Justice Moses dismissed much of the Lord Chancellor's argument as of "no assistance" and ruled the new test to be arbitrary and disproportionate. Warming to his theme he said the Lord Chancellor was:

"… unrestrained by any courtesy to his opponents, or even by that customary caution to be expected while the Court considers its judgement, and unmindful of the independent advocate's appreciation that it is usually more persuasive to attempt to kick the ball than your opponent's shins…"

Whatever the underlying merits of the two cases the interference with the rule of law and access to justice which we've seen from our present government and its predecessor is disturbing…and that's before one reflects on the implications of such an attitude influencing our leaders response to current international tensions.