Grayling hints at climb-down over judicial review battle with Lords

Fresh from his defeat over the prisoner book ban, it looks like Chris Grayling may be about to give way on at least one aspect of his judicial review attack.

The justice secretary was handling justice questions in the Commons when Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert asked him about Lord Pannick's motion B1, which would retain the discretion of the courts to give permission for judicial review when it's in the public interest in all the circumstances of the case.

That basically allows judges to side-step the ban on cases where the outcome would have been the same, which basically allowed the state to break the law without consequence. It would also, at least in some cases, prevent permission stage of judicial review cases from turning into a dress rehearsal. This is useful, because it significantly reduces the financial risk for solicitors which, ultimately, will make judicial review only an option for the rich. You can get more information on how this all works here.

This very aspect of the bill drove lords to vote against the government earlier this month, when it emerged Grayling had misled the Commons by saying the courts retained discretion in exceptional circumstances.

Huppert told Grayling there was "clearly a balance to strike" and that the Pannick amendment struck a "good balance".

Grayling replied that "this is a matter I'm paying careful attention to". He added: "I'll return to the House to take matters forward".

So it looks like on the matter of the 'highly likely' test at least, we could see a concession. But a word of caution: the last time Grayling made a concession, on interveners' costs, it was arguably worse than the original proposal.

Elsewhere in the session, Grayling pledged to fix the conflict of interest problem involving the chief inspector of probation. Paul McDowell's wife is the director of a company which won the largest number of contracts to run probation services in England and Wales.

Grayling's concern about the situation is relatively recent and dates back to when she was promoted from deputy director to director. Before that, he pretended it wasn't a problem.

That's why he suddenly told the justice committee it needed to be dealt with as a matter of urgency the other day. And it's presumably why he told the Commons today that the "very recent appointment" is "clearly an issue which must be addressed".

Again – the "recent" appointment comment is utter nonsense. This was a problem before her promotion as it is now. He has known about this situation since before they submitted their bid. It is entirely disingenuous of him to now pretend it is a recent unforeseeable development.

Regardless, Grayling told the justice committee he'd have it sorted by the time the contracts are signed, which is on Thursday. The clock is ticking.