In previous blogs we have reported on the Ministry of Justice’s plans to reform judicial review. The latest stage in the process has been the introduction of amendments to the Civil Procedure Rules (set out in The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) Rules 2013) to change the time limits for bringing planning and procurement judicial reviews and to remove the right to an oral hearing to consider the grant of permission in cases where a judge has decided on the papers that the challenge is “totally without merit”. These amendments to the Rules will come into force on 1 July 2013.

This leaves two changes outstanding from those that the Ministry of Justice, in April this year, announced would be taken forward:

  • the introduction of a fee for an oral renewal hearing
  • the revision of the Judicial Review pre action protocol so as to disapply it to procurement and planning cases.

There have been no signs yet as to when these might happen.

Attention now moves on the Ministry of Justice’s response to the recently closed consultation “Transforming legal aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system”. Although much of the publicity in relation to that consultation has revolved around the potentially disastrous impact that will result from the proposed changes to criminal legal aid, it also puts forward four measures aimed at cutting the judicial review legal aid bill. The measures – which include restricting the scope of legal aid for prisons law, limiting the availability of legal aid to those with a strong connection with the UK and paying solicitors for work done only if permission to bring proceedings is granted – have been subject to powerful criticism (a good example is the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law’ s response to the consultation) but what is likely to be most important is the response of senior judges presented through the Judicial Executive Board (JEB). In relation to the judicial review reforms it seems that it was only the JEB’s response to the consultation that the Ministry of Justice took any notice of: at least, the proposed changes that the JEB criticised were the changes that were ultimately dropped. The JEB’s response to the legal aid consultation has not yet been published (it should be available at the beginning of July) but a recent report the Law Society Gazette suggest that the judges have strong reservations about what is proposed. If that is correct there is some reason to hope that the Ministry of Justice might think again.

Whatever results from the legal aid consultation is not going to be the end of the changes in respect of judicial review. The Government has yet to announce the outcome of a consultation on raising court fees in judicial review (and other) litigation, but it seems almost certain that fees will go up. In addition, in April the Ministry of Justice announced that it was continuing to review “the case for further reform”, which it was aiming to develop by the summer. We will continue to update our blog with developments as they occur.