THE Good Law Project has announced it will set up a Scottish office amid fears judges in England are being “bullied” for holding the UK Government to account.

The legal campaign group, which is known for its high-profile court cases against the Westminster government, said its new focus north of the Border will increase scrutiny on the Scottish Government as well as tackling UK-wide cases.

Jo Maugham, the group’s director, told Scotland on Sunday the move could help hold Downing Street to account amid efforts by Rishi Sunak to crack down on the "politicisation" of UK courts by "lefty lawyers". 

Maugham said Scottish judges see greater protections than their English peers, who he said were under intense political pressure.

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The Good Law project is now looking to hire a Scots law solicitor based in Edinburgh, alongside an external affairs role to take care of media and identify potential cases in Scotland.

Maugham said he viewed the new Scottish office through “two distinct lenses”.

He said: “One is, whenever you have a government that's been in power for a while, there's a need for proper scrutiny, proper accountability, including the scrutiny and accountability that the courts can deliver.

"We would like to play our part in delivering that in Scotland as we play our part in delivering it in England.

"From time to time, we get sent stories about what the Scottish Government have got wrong and invited to litigate in Scotland, as we litigate in England.

"It's difficult for us to do that from afar, and it's difficult for us to do that in a world in which we haven't got any Scottish-qualified lawyers, and we'd like to remedy that state of affairs. And that's important.

"The law of England and Wales is one law, but Scotland has its own legal system."

The National: Rishi Sunak has vowed to crack down on what he described as 'lefty lawyers' bringing 'politically motivated' judicial reviewsRishi Sunak has vowed to crack down on what he described as 'lefty lawyers' bringing 'politically motivated' judicial reviews

Maugham said the other aspect to it was that because the Westminster Government resides throughout the UK, it can be sued in any part of the Union.

He continued: "The courts of England and Wales are under enormous pressure from the executive, the Westminster executive, and the data shows that their propensity to hold the Westminster government to account is massively diminished.

"There's been a sort of halving in the proportion of judicial review cases commenced that have resulted in a finding adverse to the Government.

"And that's not because this Government is a real believer in acting within the law. It's because courts in England and Wales are feeling under great pressure.”

Maugham said judges were feeling “bullied” and “under duress” from a government that he said routinely threatened them.

“They're reacting by sort of drawing in their horns and not doing the very important work that our constitution requires the rule of law to do,” he said.

"And we think that judges sitting in a different political context, judges sitting north of the border, with their own legal system, may not feel under such severe pressure and may be able to do the job of holding the Westminster government to account better than English judges can."

The National: Jo Maugham said courts in Scotland are under less political pressure than their English counterpartsJo Maugham said courts in Scotland are under less political pressure than their English counterparts

Maugham added that it is "totally orthodox among public law lawyers in London that it's becoming difficult, almost impossible, to win judicial review cases".

He continued: "The Acts of Union and the Treaty of Union protect the separate Scottish legal system, and remove, or at least limit, the extent to which the Westminster Government can legislate away the right that the Scottish courts have to hold to the rule of law the Westminster Government.

"And the English and Welsh courts don't have that protection.

"So the constitutional context protects Scottish courts better than it protects English courts from executive interference."

The Good Law Project has been well-known for a string of well-known legal cases against the UK Government, including the Covid “VIP” lane for PPE contracts, partygate and the 2019 prorogation of Parliament.

The latter, Maugham said, is likely to be the Good Law Project’s first Scottish operation.

At the time, his legal group worked with politicians in a ruling that found the suspension of Parliament by then prime minister Boris Johnson was illegal.

It follows promises by Sunak to crack down on “lawfare”, saying he’d “call time on campaigners politicking our courts”.

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Maugham warned against these threats: “If you imagine a world in which Government makes good on its threats to close down judicial review, they can do that in England, there's no constitutional protection for judges in England, but they'll find that much more difficult to do in Scotland, because it would involve breaching the Acts of Union and the Treaty of Union which date back more than 300 years.

"So from our point of view it feels like a bit of diversification – we're de-risking the Good Law Project from a rule of law point of view.

"Yes, Scottish judges are better protected than English judges, and so Scotland might become an even more important jurisdiction when it comes to holding power, both in Westminster and in Edinburgh, to account."

A spokesperson for the judiciary in England and Wales said all judges swear the judicial oath to hear cases “without fear or favour, affection or ill will”.

A UK Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The Government will always uphold the safeguards that support courts’ independent decision-making.

"The ability of judges to act free from any external influence or political motivation lies at the heart of our justice system and is absolutely fundamental to our democracy.”