ECONOMY

UK High Court backs Boris Johnson over Priti Patel bullying decision

Boris Johnson interpreted the ministerial code correctly when he decided to stand by UK home secretary Priti Patel over findings that she had bullied civil servants, the High Court ruled on Monday.

The First Division Association, a civil servants union, brought a judicial review challenge over the prime minister’s decision last year to override the findings of his own ethics adviser to back Patel.

It wanted the High Court to rule that the prime minister “misinterpreted” the term bullying as it is defined in the ministerial code. Johnson is the ultimate arbiter of the code.

Johnson backed Patel last November after he rejected the findings of an inquiry headed by Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, which examined allegations that she had bullied civil servants.

Two High Court judges ruled on Monday that Johnson did not misdirect himself as to the description of bullying in the ministerial code. “Reading the statement as a whole, and in context, we do not consider that the prime minister misdirected himself in that way,” said Lord Justice Clive Lewis.

The ruling will ease tensions between Johnson and judges on the issue of judicial review — a subject that has vexed the prime minister since a series of legal battles over Brexit.

Johnson was reported by The Times on Monday to be looking to strengthen the ability of parliament to challenge judicial review rulings, including possibly giving MPs a vote on an annual “interpretation bill” to strike out findings from rulings with which the government did not agree.

I Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “British democracy is founded on the principles that legislation is passed by parliament and that an independent judiciary interprets the rules.

“This sounds like the government wants to retrofit the law to its bad decisions.”

But Downing Street insisted such an idea was not on Johnson’s agenda and that more modest reforms in a judicial review and courts bill — currently before MPs — struck “the right balance”.

Johnson’s spokesman said the aim of the legislation was to “defend the judiciary from being drawn into political questions” and that there were no plans to strengthen it.

One person close to discussions on judicial review said the idea of an annual vote by MPs was “knocking around” as an idea but that Dominic Raab, justice secretary, had not ordered any work on it.

Meanwhile, Raab is working up plans to reform the Human Rights Act, including moves to strengthen freedom of speech against what he regards as a more “European” approach to privacy.

The review will also focus on the act’s “right to family life”, which Conservatives have long argued is abused by some people to avoid deportation.

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