Suella Braverman’s appointment adds another judicial sceptic to the government ranksby Jake Richards / February 18, 2020 / Leave a comment
The news of Suella Braverman’s appointment as the new attorney general has been met with widespread derision. Apart from pompous mocking of her relative inexperience as a lawyer, her apparent membership of a Buddhist cult and links to bizarre media performances, there is legitimate concern regarding her attitudes towards the judiciary. Civil liberty groups have expressed alarm about government plans to stifle judicial review of government decisions. The genesis of this policy appears, inevitably, to be Dominic Cummings—who has recently raged at court decisions and created a commission to, in the words of one insider, “get the judges sorted.”
Braverman, an ardent Brexiteer, is a perfect fit in this context. With a long-standing grievance against the Human Rights Act and a pristine illiberal voting record, a few weeks before her promotion, she wrote a piece arguing that “parliament must retrieve power ceded to another place—the courts.” The headline, while likely not written by Braverman, declared: “People we elect must take back control from people we don’t. Who include the judges.”
Braverman’s article setting out the case for reforming judicial review is at best confused and at worst wilfully ignorant. The reader does not have to work hard to identify the many contradictions.
In the opening paragraphs, Braverman apparently savours “the Diceyan notion” of parliamentary supremacy. She says that “to empower our people we need to stop the disenfranchisement of parliament.” Yet in the article, the only specific case studies cited of the “chronic and steady encroachment by the judges” are the decisions of the Supreme Court regarding the triggering of Article 50 in 2017 and the prorogation of parliament in 2019.
Both judgments were, at their simplest, the courts protecting the principle of parliamentary sovereignty against a government attempting to avoid scrutiny. In the former, the decision not to consult parliament on the triggering of Article 50 was overturned (though MPs then triggered it anyway). In the latter, the government’s unilateral decision to suspend parliament—without offering any compelling reason for doing so—was unanimously deemed unlawful. The courts were furthering the very goal Braverman allegedly wants to protect.
Braverman argues that the “catalyst for this proliferation” in so-called judicial activism was something altogether different: the Human Rights Act. She says she is not launching a “diatribe against…