Most readers will be familiar with the general principles of judicial review. It is a cornerstone of our unwritten constitution and gives a court the power to review the decisions of public authorities and to overturn them where they are found to be unreasonable or otherwise in breach of the principles of natural justice. For many years, the Administrative Court was relatively little used and rather unfashionable. It is fair to say, however, that in recent years the Administrative Court has become extremely busy perhaps even overwhelmed by a huge number of cases with a very small number of those proceeding beyond the initial stage of asking for permission to bring judicial review proceedings. The consequent delay in the Administrative Court has been substantial.
Earlier this year the government consulted on the steps it could take to reduce the burden on the Administrative Court. This included reducing the time limits for bringing certain claims and making it more difficult to renew an application for leave to bring judicial review proceedings once it had been rejected on paper.
The response to the consultation was generally favourable and the result was a change to procedure which came into effect from 1 July 2013. The major changes are:
- A reduction in the time limits for challenges to public procurement decisions from 3 months to 30 days and in planning cases from 3 months to 6 weeks.
- A new procedure for dealing with applications for leave to bring judicial review proceedings. In the past the procedure required the person seeking judicial review to make an application for permission to bring the claim to the court. That application would be considered by a judge on the papers but if it was rejected the applicant had an automatic right to ask for a hearing of the application before a judge. From 1 July however, if the judge reviewing the papers certifies the case to be "totally without merit" then the applicant will have no right to an oral hearing to review that decision. The only recourse is to a papers only appeal to the Court of Appeal.
From 1 July the fee for seeking permission for Judicial Review is £60, with a further £215 fee for a substantive hearing. Further changes are planned with details due to be released before the end of the Summer but as for whether these changes make any significant impact on the current problems experienced by the Administrative Court remains to be seen.