Do we need to re-assess how legal cases are brought?

Big health warning: there is one legally qualified person in my household, and it isn’t me.

However, I have written before several times about the totally spurious case raised against the construction of the A6 expressway from Toome to Castledawson – a case which may have cost the public purse as much as £8 million (surely better spent on cancer drugs and the like) as well as the time delay caused (inconveniencing literally tens of thousands of people every day).

There must, in a democracy, be a means and even financial support for people to make a challenge where they believe the law has not been applied. However, in the A6 expressway example, there simply was and is no case. At no stage was any instance given of how construction of the expressway breached any law. Fundamentally, one person did not like the fact a democratic decision had been made to build it, and a legal firm seemingly was happy to take the money to push paper around at a cost of millions. This, surely, is an utter farce.

Last week, there was another example of this. A campaigner decided he would challenge the Conservative-DUP confidence-and-supply deal “on the grounds it breaches the Good Friday Agreement”. There is an obvious problem with this: it doesn’t.

The Agreement is very clear. By sovereignty, Northern Ireland is part of the UK until its people decide otherwise, and its people may always choose to be British. This, quite obviously, means they have every right to participate in the politics and government of the UK.

Indeed, it is utterly obvious also that this person would not have raised a case against a Labour-SNP arrangement of the same type (and he in the past raised no query about the SDLP taking the Labour whip, as it always did). Ultimately, as with the A6 expressway example, he was raising a legal challenge simply because he did not like a democratic outcome.

Therefore, after the judgment, it was made absolutely clear that the taxpayer would not bear the cost of the entirely spurious legal challenge. So why was that not the case with the A6?

We simply cannot continue to allow spurious legal challenges to be made by people who do not like democratic decisions. It is this which in fact profoundly damages democracy. Democracy requires and demands that we have the opportunity to make our case, but also that we accept the outcome when it goes against us. We are of course perfectly at liberty to continue to argue against democratic decisions as long as we ourselves do so democratically. But this nonsense of millions of taxpayers’ money being spent on legal challenges to perfectly legitimate democratic decisions must end right now.

So maybe legal experts can tell me. When a case is made to prosecute someone for a crime, a reasonable argument has to be made that the person may be found guilty before the case is allowed to go to trial by the prosecutor’s office (in Northern Ireland’s case, the PPS). Surely a similar test with a similar level of scrutiny should take place before a legal challenge is even allowed to go to court (far less at taxpayers’ expense)?

Actually what the Good Friday Agreement was about was putting democracy before anything else. So it is important that it is not undermined by spurious legal challenges in this way. All thoughts welcome.


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