As another week has passed, the 1st of June, the start of British Summer Time has come and gone. Today, the 4th June is significant in relation to the legal aid proposals. Today is the consultation deadline. With the online e-petition now boasting over 75,000 signatories, the impending cuts seem less likely to go ahead as planned. Or do they?
The e-petition has received the obligatory response from the government, which must be provided when an e-petition reaches 10,000 signatories. The response by the MoJ to the petition can be accessed here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628
What exactly is the actual response by the government to e-petitions in general? What do e-petition’s achieve, if anything? And how effective are they?
Well, let’s take a look at the current e-petition at the top of the ‘leaders list’ i.e. the e-petition still active with the most signatories. This is the petition against the cull of badgers. A government plan to cull badgers on a monumental scale. This petition has received nearly quarter of a million signatories. Did it work? In short no, not yet anyway. The cull came into force and began on Saturday 1st of June and despite large protests and as previously mentioned nearly a quarter of a million people petitioning against it. The petition and large support against the cull is backed by clear scientific evidence that brought the reasoning for the cull into disrepute, nevertheless it still went ahead. A sign that the government are clearly willing to carry out their agenda, regardless of what a significant number of people want. The government may argue to the contrary.
Let’s analyse the statistics. Assuming everyone that turned up to the protests actually signed the petition, which would seem a fair assumption, then no additional numbers would be added to the petition. Even standing at a quarter of a million, this would account for less than 0.5% of the population. Next, is it fair to say that everyone who signed the e-petition would actually vote in a general election? Assuming it would be reasonable to say so; the figures then show a completely different picture. Remember only around 65% of the population actually vote in a general election. That brings the signatories on the badger cull up to just under 9% of the electorate. A much more significant number, and really a proportion that any government cannot afford to lose at the polls. That’s one interpretation on the statistics, there may be others, but all statistics have been referenced and it’s up to you to make up your own mind.
Perhaps Chris Grayling should read this, review the statistics and re-consider what it is that people actually want, and that’s before taking into account what is actually right. Although, if he was to read anything it should first and foremost be ‘The Rule of Law’ by Tom Bingham. A brilliant read that was written back in 2009 before any of these proposals where in the pipeline, before the coalition were even in power, but still manages to outline perfectly how the current proposals are contrary to the rule of law.
So will the e-petition be effective? As previously discussed, once the petition reaches 100,000 signatories, a parliamentary debate will be triggered. This will enable the proposals to be debated and receive parliamentary scrutiny, but still will this be enough? The proposals are being pushed through as secondary legislation. This means that they will not require a vote in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords; the normal process for primary legislation. These proposals are going through the back door. If they are successfully implemented they could possibly be open to judicial review, a process where the courts determine if secondary legislation has been passed legally, however this requires a legal basis to bring a challenge. Not simply the fact that they will cause chaos within the legal system and leave many people without access to justice. That’s not actually against the law. Remember, Parliament is supreme and it can create any law it likes no matter the consequences. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point too, that the government also outlined their intentions to cut the number of judicial review cases being brought about earlier this year. Another erosion to the rule of law which will be discussed further in next week’s Urban Lawyers blog.
 Data taken from World Bank. Population of UK in 2011 stood at 62.74 million.