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12 December 2012
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Prime Minister David Cameron was preaching to the converted when he told the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) last month that many judicial review (JR) applications were “completely pointless”, with applications roughly five times more likely to be rejected than granted.
Calling for reform Cameron said it is time to “reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews - so people think twice about time-wasting.”
Public law lawyers universally scoff at the PM’s assertion, responding that the courts already provide several layers of checks before any case is launched in the High Court.
RPC head of commercial litigation Geraldine Elliott speaks for many when she says: “Reducing the scope for raising serious issues with the court is excessive and places a further stranglehold on a process that already has adequate safeguards in place, not least a court-led initial screening process.”
The figures put forward by Cameron, they contend, are skewed and do not reflect the fact that a significant proportion of those cases concerned asylum and immigration matters.
According to the latest MoJ figures released last June, there were 18,811 applications for permission to apply for JRs in 2011, a 12 per cent increase on 2010. Of these, 11,200 were received, 6,391 were refused and 1,220 were granted. Most were asylum and immigration matters.
Apart from immigration and asylum matters the authorities have faced a number of high-profile JR challenges in recent years. Some have made it to court and, with others, the mere threat of legal action has been enough to derail contracts.
Take the Department for Transport’s (DfT) decision to hand control of the West Coast Main Line to FirstGroup instead of the current contractors, Virgin Rail. Incensed at losing the franchise Richard Branson branded the decision “insane” and called in the lawyers - soon after the DfT cancelled the contract at a reported cost of £40m for FirstGroup. (3 October 2012)
Tottenham Hotspur FC also turned to the lawyers after the Government decided to hand control of the Olympic Park to rival West Ham United after the Olympics - following just one court outing last August, when Mr Justice Collins gave permission for the JR to go ahead, West Ham dropped its bid for the stadium.
The Department for Education has also had its fair share of JR challenges - the most notable being over the decision by education secretary Michael Gove to halt investment in refurbishing every school in the country in 2011 which, ruled Mr Justice Holman, was taken without consultation and therefore illegal. (11 February 2011)
As further details emerge about the Government’s plans to clamp down on JRs, some will no doubt be on the hunt for a way to challenge the reforms. There is no doubt that the number of JRs is on the rise, but in taking up the cause, Cameron has set out on another collision course with the public law specialists.
P.S Lawyer 2B’s first-ever webcast, powered by the College of Law, will be taking place on 12 December. Editor Christian Metcalfe will be chairing the panel discussing the importance of international law for future top lawyers and you can send your questions in to be answered. All you need to do is register beforehand.