The shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, has urged Dominic Raab to tackle the “chaos” in the justice system before unpicking human rights law, after Raab said he wanted to curb the power of the European court of human rights (ECHR) over the government.
Raab used an interview with the Sunday Telegraph to signal that he would be reviewing the Human Rights Act, which brought the European convention on human rights into UK law, with a view to constraining the influence of the Strasbourg court.
But Lammy said that was the wrong priority. “Rape convictions are at historic lows and women are rapidly losing faith in the criminal justice system, while record backlogs have left the courts at breaking point. And yet the priority for Dominic Raab seems to be undermining vital human rights legislation that protects us all,” he said.
“Instead of trying to weaken the rule of law, the Tories need to set out how they plan to fix the chaos they have created in the justice system.”
Raab’s predecessor, Robert Buckland, said in a letter to the prime minister after he was sacked that the justice system had undergone “years of underfunding”.
In his interview, Raab laid out plans to limit the powers of the ECHR in the UK, by allowing the government to legislate to “correct” judgments ministers believe are wrong.
A long-term sceptic about the Human Rights Act, which brought the rights convention into UK law, he was handed the justice post in Boris Johnson’s September reshuffle.
“I don’t think it’s the job of the European court in Strasbourg to be dictating things to, whether it’s the NHS, whether it’s our welfare provision, or whether it’s our police forces,” he said.
“We’re identifying the problems and we’re making sure we fix them … We will get into the habit of legislating on a more periodic basis and thinking about the mechanism for that. Where there have been judgments that, albeit properly and duly delivered by the courts, we think are wrong, the right thing is for parliament to legislate to correct them.” Proposals are expected to be published before the end of the year.
Raab also said he was looking again at how the process of judicial review works – something Buckland examined before being sacked by Johnson last month.
Raab expressed concern that judicial review was being used to “harpoon” infrastructure projects – such as the long-awaited tunnelling of the A303 near Stonehenge, permission for which was overturned by the high court in July.
The process of judicial review caused fury inside government when Johnson’s prorogation of parliament in 2019 was struck down by the supreme court.
Wera Hobhouse, the LibDem justice spokesperson, said, “This move to weaken people’s opportunity to challenge this government, or any future government, because sometimes the courts rule against them, weakens our democracy to the core. Governments make mistakes and to be able to hold them to account as a citizen is fundamental.”
The home secretary, Priti Patel, has complained about “activist lawyers” interfering in immigration cases. Raab suggested he would look to limit appeals against immigration tribunal rulings, which he said have a success rate of 3%.
“We know we’ve got a very litigious culture, I’m a recovering lawyer myself, and we quite rightly have judicial checks on the executive,” he said. “But it’s got to be done in a constructive and sensible way which allows the government to deliver the projects that it’s tasked and mandated by parliament to do [and ensures that] taxpayers’ money is not being squandered because projects are being harpooned.”