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19 November 2012

Cutting judicial reviews is exactly the wrong thing to do

There's a reason judicial reviews are on the rise.

By Martha Gill

In an address to the CBI today Cameron vowed to cut “time-wasting” caused by the “massive growth industry” in judicial reviews. He wants fewer reviews, specifically for those challenging planning, and he wants to shorten the limitation period for bringing a review. This is all in aid of a new “growth cabinet” – cutting “red tape” and “bureaucratic rubbish” and “trying to speed decision making”.
 
But are judicial reviews actually a waste of time? At the moment, a judicial review is one of the only ways by which the courts can scrutinise the decisions of public bodies. Legal Aid is available for it – prisoners, for example, can bring judicial reviews against decisions of the parole board. 
 
One of the key points in Cameron’s idea is cutting the length of time you have to bring your claim. At the moment this is 3 months, which is the second shortest behind bringing an appeal against the decision of a Magistrate’s Court to the Crown Court. Cutting it further would mean that many cases would get thrown out regardless of their merits.
 
So there are the cons – disempowering people who didn’t have much power in the first place, and increasing opportunities for public bodies to overstep the mark, unchallenged. What of the pros? Cameron argues that the judicial review industry is growing, holding up progress and costing money.
 
Judicial review is indeed on the rise, but this is down to the growth of government, a better understanding of access to legal services, and a realisation that the courts are fairly good at calling public bodies out when they act unreasonably or outside their powers. And as has been pointed out, the goverment are also doing their fair share of holding up infrastructure projects, such the development of green energy and a hub airport in south east England. Overhauling the judicial review process is also unlikely to be cost free.
According to one barrister, the real reason for delays in processing appeals is because of Cameron’s cuts to Courts and Tribunals Services. “If Cameron wants the JR process to take less time he should open some more courts and appoint some more staff” he said.
 
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