Good Law Project doesn’t just bring legal challenges – we also campaign using the law. And that’s because campaigning and challenges both make change happen.
“What happens now?” our supporters ask us, when a Court declares that a Minister broke the law. The answer should be, a promise that it won’t happen again – if not a resignation. But it’s not the declaration that the case asks the judge to make which compels that answer. Change happens, with this Government especially, only where you attach political pain to wrongdoing, and that means campaigning.
Sometimes campaigning, or a combination of campaigning and legal action, brings about the change you want before you get to Court. Of course, you can’t know the extent to which your campaigning or litigation delivered that change: there is no alternative world in which you didn’t campaign and sue to compare it to. You are left to make an informed estimate.
What you can know is that if the Government has given you what you wanted before you get to Court, the cost-benefit analysis of continuing with the case has changed.
A good example of this is Good Law Project’s challenge to the Met’s stance on the Prime Minister’s criminality. In public statements for weeks they refused to open an investigation. But when we sued they changed their minds – and then concluded that the Prime Minister had committed a criminal breach of lockdown rules. In those circumstances why would we continue with our claim? We had achieved the outcome we wanted.
Sometimes the legal outcome makes all the difference – as with our Prorogation case where the Court ruled the Prime Minister’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful and reversed it.
Sometimes a legal case makes the difference even without a win. When the Prime Minister said he would rather “die in a ditch” than send a letter, as Parliament had demanded, extending our departure date from the EU we sued him. He responded by confirming – privately to the Court – that he would comply with the law. And the Court supervised him to ensure he did. No ditches were blocked, and the case didn’t conclude with a clear judgment in our favour – but the letter got sent.
Sometimes the campaign is what matters. The litigation we brought to challenge the cronyism of the PPE VIP lane – which wasted billions of pounds and looks to have involved serious criminality – exposed some horrifying truths. The Court’s finding when it came, that the VIP lane was not merely a gross misuse of political patronage but also illegal, was the cherry on the cake.
It is also true that the standing threat of litigation delivers better governance. We hear, time and again, from Government lawyers who apply to join us how the fact of our existence means Ministers who would once have acted without regard for the law are now forced to reflect on how their conduct would be viewed by the Courts.
And, although we could choose only to fight cases we knew we would win, we’re not in the business of looking good. We’re in the business of change. We exist because we think the law has a part to play in building a better world. Doing that means choosing the cases that are important – however easy or hard they are to win.
All of this makes the exercise of assessing the impact of our work complex. But you are entitled to transparency from us about what your money has delivered. If you click through, here, you can see a record of all the cases we’ve ever brought and/or raised money for, together with a summary of the outcomes, campaigning and legal.
How you assess wins/mixed/losses/can’t say is to some extent impressionistic but our transparent assessment (our table shows our workings) of legal outcomes (where we think we can say) is that 46% are wins, 17% are mixed, and 37% are losses. And our (transparent) assessment of campaigning outcomes is that 41% are wins and 20% have delivered some real campaigning advantages. Of 41 cases where we think we can give a legal or campaigning outcome, 66% (27) are successes and only 10% (4) are losses.
There are no direct comparables. But, as a baseline, according to statistics published by the Government, the proportion of judicial review claimants over the last six years who had judgments in their favour in Court was at its highest 5.2% (2019) and at its lowest 2.2% (2021).
However you assess it, and despite choosing impactful cases over easy ones, our success rate compares very favourably with that baseline.
Good Law Project only exists thanks to donations from people across the UK. If you’re in a position to support our work, you can do so here.