Government Departments: Judicial Review

Lord Trimble asked Her Majestyís Government:

'What steps they are taking to ensure that all government departments comply with the duty of candour in judicial review proceedings.'

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith):My Lords, high standards of candour are expected of government departments faced with judicial review. The requirement is set out in guidance for all those in government involved in litigation and is reinforced in a number of ways, including training for government lawyers. Further, the Ministerial Code and Civil Service Code require individuals to act honestly and not to deceive or knowingly mislead.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. While I have no intention of going into the details of the recent judicial review application by Mrs Downes against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I am sure the noble and learned Lord will acknowledge that it is quite exceptional for the judge in the case to call for a high-level inquiry into the conduct of the Secretary of State and his senior officials and then to publish a list of 67 questions that must be answered.

I have seen press reports that the Attorney-General intends to have an inquiry into the matter. Can he tell us anything about the progress in setting up the inquiry, how it will be conducted and when he expects to have its conclusions? Does he think it might be useful in the interim to circulate both of Mr Justice Girvanís judgments to all Permanent Secretaries in the United Kingdom?

Lord Goldsmith:My Lords, it is absolutely right that the learned judge has raised a number of concerns and put them to me, not as a Minister but, as he rightly says, acting independently of the Government and in the interests of justice. I have therefore decided that I should inquire into the issues raised by the judge and have concluded that that is best done by appointing an independent person to carry out a review and report to me. This has not yet been finalised. I must identify the right person and see that they are available to do it. Once that is done, however, I will ensure that this House and the other place know of it.

The noble Lord asks whether the judgment should be circulated in the mean time. At my request and on my authority, the director-general of my department is writing to all heads of legal teams throughout Whitehall to draw this case and my review to their attention and to remind them of the importance of ensuring an awareness of the duty of candour both by lawyers and clients.

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(November 23rd, 2006)

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