How much trouble is David Gauke in? The Justice Secretary appears to be up to his neck in it in light of the news this morning that a decision by the Parole Board to release the rapist John Worboys has been quashed following a legal challenge by two of the taxi rapist's victims.
The problem is Gauke decided that the government would not pursue a judicial review to stop the release of the serial sex attacker on the grounds that it 'had no reasonable prospect of success'. At the time, there was widespread outrage at the decision and so Sadiq Khan, the Sun and several of Worboy's victims launched legal challenges of their own. Given that the legal challenge by two victims was upheld by the High Court (with a 'further inquiry' now due), Gauke's decision can be described as both politically deaf and plain wrong.
As a result of this, the Parole Board's chairman Nick Hardwick has resigned, with Gauke telling him his position was 'untenable'. But is Gauke's position also now untenable? In a statement, the Justice Secretary said he 'welcomes' today's judgments and said his legal advice was correct – it was just that a different legal argument won:
'I welcome today’s judgment and congratulate the victims who brought this unprecedented legal action. I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my heartfelt sympathy for all they, and the other victims, have suffered as a result of Worboys’ hideous crimes.
I took expert legal advice from leading counsel on whether I should bring a challenge. The bar for judicial review is set high. I considered whether the decision was legally rational - in other words, a decision which no reasonable Parole Board could have made.
The advice I received was that such an argument was highly unlikely to succeed. And, indeed, this argument did not succeed. However, the victims succeeded in a different argument.'
His comments are unlikely to do much to win over those affected – or those Tory MPs who were outraged at the time – and remain outraged – by the government's limp response. However, if it is the case that the reason Gauke couldn't proceed with a judicial review is that the mistakes that swung it were mistakes made by his own department then it may not be this David that is in the firing line. After all, Gauke only recently took charge of the department from his predecessor David Lidington.