At a speech at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference yesterday, the Prime Minister David Cameron invoked the second world war spirit as a justification for cutting back on regulation.  He said that four areas would be addressed:

  • cutting back on judicial reviews,
  • reducing government consultations,
  • streamlining European legislation, and
  • stopping the gold-plating of legislation at home.

Judicial review

Judicial review (or JR) is the ability to challenge the legal process taken to reach a decision, rather than the merits of a decision (which would be an appeal).  The statistics of JRs increasing from 160 in 1975 to 4,500 in 1998 to 11,200 in 2011 are mainly immigration JRs rather than planning ones (8649 in 2011).  The figure for 'other' JRs (including planning) has actually gone down from 2228 in 2006 to 2213 in 2011.

At the moment in most cases JR must be launched promptly and in any event within three months of the decision (or failure to take a decision) that it relates to. In the Planning Act 2008 the limited ability to launch JR is already restricted to six weeks from the decision.

The PM said that three curbs would be introduced.  Each of these is amplified a little on the Ministry of Justice website:

  • PM: Reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; MoJ: Shortening the length of time following an initial decision that an application for a judicial review can be made in some cases - and stopping people from using tactical delays
  • PM: Charge more for reviews so people think twice about time-wasting; MoJ: Reforming the current fees so that they cover the costs of providing judicial review proceedings.
  • PM: instead of giving hopeless cases up to four bites of the cherry to appeal a decision, we will halve that to two; MoJ: Halving the number of opportunities currently available to challenge the refusal of permission for a judicial review, from up to four currently, to two

Nothing has been announced in detail yet - according to the MoJ website 'we will announce our proposals shortly'. I would guess that the time limit reduction will be to six weeks in all cases, but I'm not sure how 'tactical delays' will be stopped.The cryptic reference to four bites at the cherry is probably to do with seeking permission to launch JR proceedings, which can be appealed ('renewed in open court'), as well as the JR itself, which if refused leave to appeal can be sought from the High Court that made the decision and then the Court of Appeal, in writing and orally.  Which two of the four will go is anyone's guess.

Apparently, 'a public engagement exercise on the plans will be issued shortly', not being a ...

Consultation

At the moment there is Cabinet Office guidance that consultations should normally take 12 weeks.  The PM has said that it will now be up to the consulter to decide how long the consultation should take - or whether there should be a consultation at all. In fact the 2008 guidelines were recently updated to refer to a consultation period of two to 12 weeks.

Streamlining European legislation

This is about trying to reduce the amount of European legislation by reviewing the necessity for existing legislation rather than just the necessity for new legislation.  This will happen in Brussels rather than London.

Gold-plating

The final area of 'gold-plating' at home is for the moment reduced to abolishing the need for Equality Impact Assessments.

At the end of the list, the PM singled out building roads and railways more quickly, but only with a reference to 'dismantl[ing] some of the procedures that have been slowing us down and slowing you down'.  This could be an indirect reference to the thresholds in the Planning Act for roads and railways, which are some of the lowest.

In wrapping up he said that we were in the economic equivalent of war today, and should behave accordingly and forget about crossing every t and dotting every i.  I do worry that ts and is will look the same if we do that.