An influential all party report by peers and MPs published last week (see my report in Byline Times) found nine recent judgements by the Supreme Court were favouring the government over the individual.
The change appears to have taken place after Lord Robert Reed became President in 2020 replacing Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond. It also follows a change in the composition of the court which is now almost exclusively male with just one token female judge out of 10.
The judgements of Lord Reed are hostile to women’s and children’s rights
I have since investigated further and found other cases where Lord Reed’s judgement have struck down opponents to Boris Johnson’s government particularly if they involve campaigning groups and they affect the welfare of women and children.
In one judgement he stated: “challenges to legislation on the ground of discrimination have become
increasingly common in the United Kingdom. They are usually brought by campaigning organisations which lobbied unsuccessfully against the measure when it was being considered in Parliament, and then act as solicitors for persons affected by the legislation, or otherwise support legal challenges brought in their names, as a means of continuing their campaign.”
This as the report points out ” reflect the executive talking point that litigation is used by “activist lawyers” to “conduct politics by other means”. Such a comment could easily have been made by Priti Patel, the home secretary.
Now this view may well explain a decision not mentioned in the report concerning the fate of a judicial review brought by the BackTo60 organisation on March 30 2021. This is the case readers of this blog will be familiar (Delve and another v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)- involving a long standing campaign to gain full restitution for 3.8 women born in the 1950s who faced up to six years delay in getting their pensions. Since this ruling the Parliamentary Ombudsman has found partial maladministration in the arrangements for implementing this policy.
Lord Reed and two other male judges decided to refuse to hear the case at the Supreme Court saying the delay in bringing the proceedings was unarguable.
Now this is strange given that the Hon Ms Justice Lang – had granted the case for a judicial review on all grounds -and lawyers had been allowed to argue their case at the High Court and the Court of Appeal even though they lost. The only people who were really angry about the decision were government ministers at the DWP.
Michael Mansfield QC who argued the case for Backto60 said the Supreme Court’s was a “paper thin refusal”.
In my opinion the real reason may well have been that Lord Reed loathed campaigning groups like BackTo60 and hated well known ” activist lawyers” like Michael Mansfield. Also his decision would not affect a single man -only elderly women would suffer.
The second case which is in the report concerned another case brought by women and children about the government’s two child limit on tax credits and benefits for children. Again it involved the DWP. The claimants had used the UK’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to argue discrimination. Lord Reed ruled in July 2021 that this was ” out of order” and the UN convention could not be used in arguments because the UK Parliament had not passed specific legislation to implement the convention. This was precisely the opposite of what he argued in 2015.
Lord Reed backed government savings over helping children
But worse than that his judgement gave away his hostility to the plight of women and children.
“The Court concludes that the two child limit has an objective and reasonable justification, notwithstanding its greater impact on women. The measure pursues a legitimate aim: to protect the economic wellbeing of the country by achieving savings in public expenditure and thus contributing to reducing the fiscal deficit. It was inevitable that, if that aim was to be achieved, there would be a disproportionate impact on women, since women are disproportionately represented among parents responsible for bringing up children Parliament decided that the disproportionate impact of the two child limit on women was outweighed by the importance of achieving its aims. There is no basis on which the Court could properly take a different view.”
The third case, not mentioned in the report, involves the Scottish government’s attempt to introduce legislation to implement in full the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This alarmed Boris Johnson who did not want the Scottish Government implementing a convention that the UK had ratified which he felt should be done, if at all, by the Westminster Parliament.
I wrote about this here. The Supreme Court sided in October 2021 with the UK government blocking the Scottish Government doing this which also meant that other planned legislation implementing UN conventions on discrimination against women (CEDAW), ethnic minorities and the disabled would be stalled.
Lord Reed’s decision tore up part of the SNP manifesto
This decision led by Lord Reed again limited rights for women and children but also tore up the Scottish National Party manifesto pledge to introduce legislation. Ironically given all the fuss over judges being accused by the Daily Mail of being ” enemies of the people”, it makes Lord Reed, a Scottish judge who would know all about Scottish politics, an enemy of the Scottish voter who had elected the SNP government and expected them to fulfill their promises.
My conclusion is both Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, the Lord Chancellor, literally know they have a friend at court, the highest court in the land. They know they can introduce what restrictive legislation they want, and provided it is passed by Parliament, the most powerful judge in the land’s loathing of campaigning groups, will help them get their way. And women who only have a marginal role in the Supreme Court, better not expect any help either from a man who appears to have a bit of a misogynistic streak when it comes to backing their corner.
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