Beholding court

Following the establishment of the Administrative Court just over a year ago, Sam Karim examines the history and the consequences of the regionalisation process

 April 2010 marked the one-year anniversary for the regionalisation of the Administrative Court. ­Following a successful 20-year campaign to bring these proceedings out of London, the process is now cheaper, quicker and more accessible for all parties.

The beginning of the ’modern time’ ­justification for the regionalisation of the Administrative Court started in the Report of the Judicial Working Group (JWG) in January 2007.

The JWG, in its report, Justice Outside of London, said: “The present system ­discriminates against those who are not in the South of England. Nearly all judicial review and other claims in the ­Administrative Court have to be brought in London, with the obvious inconvenience and additional expense that this causes for claimants, defendants, interested parties and their lawyers. Proper access to justice is not achieved if those in the regions can only bring judicial review and other claims in the Administrative Court in London.”

Justification

There were five principle justifications for the regionalisation process: access to justice; savings in public and ­private expense; ­discrimination against those who are not in the South East of England (including ­practitioners and Judges); ­devolution and constitutional concerns in Wales (although Wales technically is not a region); and the relieving of nominated ­Administrative Court Judges from some of the burden of ­mountainous repetitive paper applications.

Lord Justice May, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, said in an ­interview before the opening last year: “The move is not just a pragmatic one […] It is also right, in itself, for these cases to be heard ­locally […] the important thing is that claimants based in the regions will be able to have their cases dealt with at the centre that they regard as most convenient, instructing – if they wish – lawyers also based in the region.”

Ringing the changes

To ensure a uniformity of practice, two ­liaison Judges were appointed to supervise and manage the Administrative Court in the regions. Mr Justice Langstaff assumed responsibility for the Northern and North-Eastern Circuit (Manchester and Leeds) and Mr Justice Beaston assumed ­responsibility over the Wales and Midland Circuit (Cardiff and Birmingham).

All four regional centres have their own dedicated administrative staff, including an Administrative Court Office lawyer. All regional centres (including London) use the confidential and secure computer case management system, Coins, which ­prevents the possibility of two or more of the same claims being issued more than once in the respective regional centre, and so enables all five centres to act cohesively against forum shoppers.

Consequences of the court

Prior to regionalisation taking effect, the JWG report stated that approximately 7 per cent of claims issued in the ­Administrative Court had a local ­connection, ie those cases that could be feasibly heard outside of ­London. That ­percentage has remained static for some time. The Administrative Court Office has recently (5 March) provided statistics relating to cases issued from 21 April 2009 to 5 March 2010. A total of 14,816 judicial review cases have been issued throughout the Administrative Court, out of which 1,345 were issued in regional ­centres.

This equates to an average of 122 judicial review cases issued per month ­outside of London, or put another way, 9.1 per cent of all judicial review cases, which exceeds the 7 per cent figure and target for the first year. Of those figures, the highest number of cases – 3.3 per cent – were issued in ­Manchester, 2.8 per cent were issued in Birmingham, 2.2 per cent in Leeds and 0.8 per cent in Cardiff, while 90.9 per cent of cases were issued at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Langstaff J emphasises how successful he thinks the process of devolution has been: “The workload of the regional ­Administrative Courts has exceeded our expectations and we are now dealing with developing plans to cope with the ever-increasing caseload over the forthcoming years. Most importantly, however, there is ­evidence that claimants have instigated claims in the regional centres when under the previous regime they would not have availed themselves of seeking a remedy if the court was still just present in London.

“Finally,” he concludes, “the regional ­centres have shown that they are able to dispose of cases at a far greater speed, in some cases up to 75 per cent faster than London.”

Signs of success

Nonetheless, London has also seen improvements. There was a huge backlog in the capital and since the opening waiting times in London have fallen, particularly for substantive hearings and renewal ­hearings, so the benefits can be seen right across the system.

A consequence of this success has seen the establishment of the Northern ­Administrative Law Association (Nala) in Manchester, which was specifically ­developed to promote public law-related work in the Northern Regions and London Chambers. And finally, it would be remiss not to mention the ­appointment of Frances ­Patterson QC ­(formerly head of Kings Chambers and now president of Nala) as the Law ­Commissioner in ­January this year.

The notion of access to justice was the main driving force for regionalisation and it was difficult to counter this argument when the concept was first ­considered. Now we have evidence that ­suggests that some ­individuals have ­instigated judicial review cases in the regional centres who would not have ­otherwise done so. It is plain, in view of the above statistics, that the regional centres have exceeded expectation and the court’s own targets.

There is no doubt that the ­regionalisation of the Administrative Court has been a ­complete success in terms of access of ­justice, costs and speed of ­resolution. The election campaign has been littered with reference to public sector cuts, but amid this gloom of recession was a sensible implementation about which the court ­system should ­justifiably be proud.


Sam Karim is a barrister at Kings ­Chambers in Manchester and Leeds