On 13 December 2012, the Ministry of Justice published a consultation proposing measures to reform the procedure for judicial reviews. The rationale behind the reform is to halt the increasing number of applications for judicial review which have risen from 160 in 1974 to 11,200 in 2011. This substantial increase is largely due to the growing number of asylum and immigration cases being brought to court.

Alongside these changes, the consultation also proposes reforms in other areas, including specific measures for the process of challenging planning decisions.

In summary, the Ministry of Justice has proposed the following:

  • Reducing the time limit for making an application for judicial review in a planning matter from three months to six weeks.
  • Removing the right to an oral renewal (which can be used to challenge the decision to grant or refuse an application for judicial review) in cases where there has been a prior judicial review or in which the judge, on written submissions, has determined the case to be "totally without merit".
  • Introducing a £215 fee for when applying for an oral renewal. At the same time, it is proposed that the further fee for a full judicial review hearing, in the event that the application is successful, should be waived.

The big advantage for developer clients is that the period of uncertainty between grant of permission and the 'safe date' when development can begin, is reduced to a manageable six weeks. The proposal also removes the ability of a vexatious litigant from causing added delay and uncertainty by removing another chance to seek permission.

Intended as a change for the better, the proposals support government policy which is designed to stimulate the economy. Although welcome news for many, those who seek to delay development, for a range of reasons, are likely to howl in protest. The consultation is due to close on 24 January 2013 and we await the outcome with interest.