Press release

Specialist planning court proposed to boost UK business

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A specialist planning court has been proposed by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to help ensure crucial development projects no longer get mired in unnecessary legal delay.

Statue of lady holding scales

The new “planning chamber” is one of a package of proposals designed to speed up the judicial review process and drive out meritless cases which clog up courts and slow the progress of legitimate applications.

A consultation launched today also asks for views on whether, and how, to limit who is able to apply for a judicial review – for example to only people who have a direct interest in the case so that the process cannot be exploited for campaigning or publicity purposes, at the expense of others.

The “planning chamber” would see judicial review decisions relating to major developments taken only by expert judges and would take advantage of streamlined processes so they are considered as quickly as possible.

The move has been designed to support the continued recovery of the economy by making sure projects do not face unnecessary delays. Developers have complained in the past that lengthy legal delays to projects have forced them into financial difficulty and have caused some schemes to collapse completely.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:

‘Britain is winning in the global race and we must do everything we can to keep pushing forwards – these proposals will ensure legal challenges are heard swiftly, so crucial new building projects no longer fall by the wayside because of needless delays.

‘We want to make sure judicial review continues its crucial role in holding authorities and others to account, but also that it is used for the right reasons and is not abused by people to cause vexatious delays or to generate publicity for themselves at the expense of ordinary tax-payers.’

Other issues being consulted on in the paper launched today include:

  • Changing the rules around who has to pay the legal bills for cases – so all parties have an equal interest in ensuring unnecessary costs are not racked up. This could include making applicants who bring spurious cases pay some of the legal bill encountered by the other side, who will have had to prepare a defence. The defendant is often the Government, meaning these costs currently have to be met by tax-payers.

  • Targeting legal aid funding at cases with merit, so that the legal aid system commands public confidence and credibility.

  • Speeding up appeals in important cases by making it possible more often for them to be considered by the Supreme Court without first going to the Court of Appeal.

There has been a huge growth in the number of judicial review applications in recent years, causing the whole system to slow down despite the fact only a small proportion succeed.

Applications more than doubled from 4,500 in 1998 to 12,400 in 2012, but in 2012 just one in six were granted permission to proceed beyond the first consideration of the application. Of the 422 which went on to a final hearing without being withdrawn or settled in 2011 just 163 went in favour of the applicant.

Cases often take more than a year to resolve. For planning cases, the average time to resolve an application which went all the way to a final hearing was 370 days in 2011.

The judiciary have already made changes to improve the timeliness of handling planning judicial reviews, which has included appointing a senior judge to oversee the process. The proposed planning chamber would be intended to drive further improvement.

The new proposals follow changes to tackle meritless reviews already implemented by the Government in July 2013, including:

  • Stopping people from having a “second chance” hearing if their initial written application is ruled totally without merit by a judge.
  • Halving the time limit for applying for a JR of a planning decision from three months to six weeks.
  • Reducing the time limit for applying for a JR of a procurement decision from three months to 30 days.

The Government will also shortly introduce a £215 court fee for anyone seeking a “second chance” hearing and intends to increase the initial application fee.

Notes to Editors

  1. The consultation Judicial Review: proposals for further reform will run for eight weeks. Read the document and find out details of how to respond.

  2. Most of the changes proposed would require changes to primary legislation, meaning they would also be debated by Parliament before being implemented. Any changes will reflect the Aarhus Convention, which gives organisations who promote environmental issues and certain individuals the right to make challenges on environmental issues.

  3. Judicial Review is a process which individuals, businesses and other affected parties can use to challenge the lawfulness of decisions or actions of the Executive, including those of Ministers, local authorities, other public bodies and those exercising public functions. Only those with sufficient interest are able to bring a case and they must first obtain permission for their case to be heard fully.

  4. The Court’s permission is required for a claim for Judicial Review to proceed. Decisions on permission are normally considered on a review of the papers filed. Permission may be granted in full, or limited to certain grounds set out in the claim. Where the Court refuses permission, the claimant may request that the decision is reconsidered at a hearing in person. If refused at that hearing, the claimant can appeal to the Court of Appeal.

  5. Judicial reviews on planning issues are currently handled by the Administrative Court, where judges deal with all types of cases. Under the proposals, the cases would instead go to a specialist Planning Chamber in the Upper Tribunal run by a smaller number of judges specialising in planning law. Similar changes have recently been implemented to speed up handling of judicial reviews of immigration decisions.

  6. Treasury Solicitors initial illustrative assumption is that the costs to tax payers in legal costs are between £1,500 and £25,000 to defend each case against the Government. The figures on volumes and timeliness are calculated from Administrative Court data, which is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/court-statistics-quarterly-jan-mar-2013

  7. For more information contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 0203 334 3536. Follow us @MoJPress

Published 6 September 2013