Torrent of Brexit law may not be scrutinised, ex-top judge warns

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May 04, 2017
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Lord Judge, who was lord chief justice when Jack Straw was lord chancellor, said parliament's time was being wasted with bills that were little more than propaganda

Ian Nicholson/PA

Brexit will trigger a “torrent” of legislation that risks being passed into law without proper parliamentary scrutiny, England and Wales’s former top judge warned.

Lord Judge, who was lord chief justice between 2008 and 2013, predicted a “tsunami” of legislation when the UK leaves the EU, on top of thousands of pieces of legislation which he said were already not being read and some which he said were “not much more than intended political propaganda”.

Giving the annual Bingham lecture in London last night, he said: “Something like 3,000 typed pages of primary legislation have been produced annually and in addition laws are made by some 12,000 to 13,000 pages of delegated legislation, again annually. How much of this lawmaking, whether by primary or delegated legislation, has actually been read, just read, let alone scrutinised, by how many of us in parliament in advance of the enactment coming into force? Yet legislative scrutiny is an essential ingredient of our parliamentary democracy.”

The lack of scrutiny was “really rather chilling” although it was “entirely constitutional”, he added. “The government should be held to account for its actions and its policies and consequentially for the laws it seeks to enact to implement its policies and legitimise its actions.”

Lord Judge, who sits on the House of Lords constitution committee, singled out the Wales Act 2017 as little more than “intended political propaganda”. The purpose of this was to signify the commitment of parliament and the government to the Welsh assembly. “Hurray,” Lord Judge mocked. “But that is not law-making. It is a legislative provision which is not legislation at all. Legislation is an entirely inappropriate vehicle for government propaganda … the more time spent on propaganda, the less time there is for scrutinising what I might call real legislation.”

Other kinds of legislation that were not being properly scrutinised included “skeleton” bills where important policy questions were being left to delegated legislation, Lord Judge said. One example was the Childcare Act 2016, he said, which provided for free childcare for qualifying children of working parents and included no fewer than 16 regulation-making powers, including the creation of criminal offences.

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