Ray Dawe: the unelected continue to over-rule the elected

Horsham Society
Horsham Society

We have in this country a system where we have inspectors and judges, totally separated from any local process and not elected by anyone, holding sway. I do not mean judges in criminal courts but those making decisions that affect the general public interest.

With all the comment on housing policy that has filled the columns of this newspaper recently, one could be forgiven for forgetting that although Horsham District Council appears to be responsible for producing its own housing strategy it is not really a true description of the situation. The council is also in theory the authority that decides planning applications but again this is not really true.

There will certainly be a need for housing over its 20 year life of the new plan but whatever the council decides about it, must go before a government appointed inspector and if it doesn’t meet their interpretation of what is needed then it will be sent back to us for change until it does.

As for planning applications, they come before the district council’s planning committee and local members on that committee have their say.

However, should we turn it down then everyone, including developers, has the right to go to appeal.

This means that the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol decides on the application, even to the point of, as has so often happened, removing any community benefits that might have been part of the application.

So effectively we have an inspector, or to anyone observing the equivalent of a judge, not elected by anyone, holding sway.

In a very different scenario, I notice that a judge last week was able to overturn the Secretary of State for Health’s decision to downgrade A&E services at Lewisham hospital.

It is however widely recognised that we will have to rationalise the services the NHS provides or we will not be able to afford it and moreover clinicians say that the NHS can dramatically improve its performance by concentrating procedures in fewer specialist centres.

The health secretary is a member of a democratically elected Government while, as far as I know, the judge who has decided that the A&E should remain open has never been elected or had his decision subjected to any scrutiny.

Maybe this decision might prompt those in the higher levels of Government to reflect on how we make decisions in our society.

However, the danger has been apparent for a long time and politicians of all parties have had occasion to comment but nothing has then happened to alter things.

Perhaps the biggest attack on the system came when David Blunkett was the Home Secretary in the Labour Government.

He felt that in an increasingly litigious society there is a risk people will turn to the courts for solutions rather than to democratically elected institutions.

His comments followed a blow delivered to his asylum policy by a High Court judge.

The judge ruled that in six test cases, Mr Blunkett’s tough new rules - which stripped benefits from refugees who submit late asylum claims - breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Blunkett said: “If public policy can be always overridden by challenge through the courts, then democracy itself is under threat.”

Mr Blunkett’s comments now date back some ten years. It is interesting to reflect how nothing has changed.