The purpose of judicial review is to allow members of the public the right to challenge government organisations and have the support of legal aid to do so. Due to cuts following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) it is increasingly difficult for members of the public to raise a challenge, and this is highlighted most recently in the case of John Worboys.
The former black cab driver, who received an indeterminate prison sentence in 2009 for drugging and sexually assaulting 12 women, is set to be released after a three-panel parole board have determined that he is no longer a risk to the public. This decision has incensed victims, especially after some were not informed of the decision to release him prior to it being reported in the media.
Despite protestations from senior MPs including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the Justice Secretary David Gauke has decided against launching a judicial review, telling the house of commons on Friday 19th January that “Having taken considered and expert legal advice I have decided that it would not be appropriate to proceed … I know this will disappoint victims in this case and members of this house given the crimes for which he has been convicted. I share those concerns.” Gauke said the decision did not stop third parties including the victims making their own legal challenge to the Parole Board’s decision. However, following the implementation of LASPO it has become increasingly hard for victims to gain access to legal aid, creating what has been described by Amnesty as a “two tier” justice system.
Two victims known to the public only as “DSD” and “NBV” are crowdfunding to be able to afford representation to find out why John Worboys has been granted parole as well as to challenge the decision itself, which they cannot comprehend given how dangerous Worboys was only 10 years ago. To date, they have raised over £50,000 but their lawyer has warned that should the victims judicial review to block Worboys’ release fail, the serial sex offender could win damages as “the fact is that under the law, his release would have been held back”.
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “The case raises so many serious questions that anything less than an independent end-to-end review – examining the handling of the case right from the first reporting of an attack to the police by a victim, through to the parole board hearing – will be letting down both victims and the wider public.”
Ordinary people are finding it next to impossible to access justice because of issues including legal aid cuts, court closures and increased court fees, as well as changes to the rules regarding the legal costs a client can recover.