In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi once attempted to pass a law that granted Italian Prime Ministers and former Prime Ministers total immunity from prosecution. Of course Berlusconi was not trying to protect himself, you understand. It was for the good of the nation. As the former TV executive, mired in scandal after scandal, tried to place himself above the rule of law the international community laughed.
In the UK, Chris Grayling is currently trying to pass into law restrictions on the ability of the individual to challenge the decisions of ministers of the State. Of course Grayling is not trying to protect himself, you understand. It is for the good of the nation. As the former TV executive, reeling from JR loss after JR loss, tries to place himself above the rule of law this nation should weep.
Yesterday the court granted interim relief (you can insert your own Berlusconi gag here) against the MoJ in an action brought by the CLSA and LCCSA. I saw someone calculate that this amounted to ten recent setbacks for Grayling in the High Court. From dodgy disclosure in Legal Aid consultations, to the unsustainable book ban for prisoners, to the unlawful withdrawal of funding for the vulnerable, our Minister for Justice is getting caught with his pants down more often than a lothario at a Bunga Bunga party. It is little wonder that Lady Justice is thought to wear a blindfold.
When Grayling tried to justify his restrictions on access to Judicial Review he complained to the House of Commons that Ministers faced regular legal challenges to their decisions. This was one pronouncement where he was not misleading the House, although the use of Ministers in the plural may have been artistic licence. What he meant was “I”. As in “I face regular legal challenges to my decisions”. He may as well have reverted to his former stomping ground, television, and simply declared “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”
In an age where the Shadow A-G recently had to resign for sneering at a member of the electorate on Twitter it is remarkable that the Lord Chancellor repeatedly gets away with treating us all with such contempt. When will this particular Minister be held to account for his repeated failings?
You will often see newspaper headlines that scream “Terrorist gets £1 million in Legal Aid.” Well what must Grayling’s legal bill be? I bet these Judicial Reviews are not being done at Legal Aid rates. I bet his lawyers’ fees are not 17.5% of what they were for the same cases 18 months ago. Not that I am blaming the lawyers. All lawyers know the pain of representing the irrational client who will not accept advice. But his Ministry’s incompetence is costing the taxpayer.
I imagine that the MoJ Press Office now operates an automated phone system. You know the sort of thing: “Press 1 if you are calling because Munby J has just given us a good kicking. Press 2 if a Leftwing pressure group has just been proved right. Press 3 if an independent review body has just shown us to be incompetent fools. Press 4 to bring out the Gimp….”
The victory for the solicitors yesterday is another step along the way. Another defeat for a beleaguered Minister. It is a wearisome process. But a necessary one. One that we know the Minister fears. He fears it so much he has done a Berlusconi and tried to get himself immunity. We should not let him get away with that, either.
In fact the similarity to Berlusconi is not just an idealogical one. Get yourself a photo of Grayling and a black felt tip pen. Colour in a tight veneer of a jet black hairline. Fill in the eyebrows a little bit. Its uncanny……