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Judicial Review

Volume 575: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2014

Today I am publishing the Government response to the consultation “Judicial review: proposals for further reform” setting out the package of reform I intend to take forward. The consultation ran from 6 September to 1 November and attracted 325 responses.

Judicial review is, and will remain, an important means of ensuring that the actions of Government and other public bodies are lawful. But I am clear that a wide-ranging package of reform is necessary to ensure that cases, particularly significant planning cases, are dealt with more quickly and that judicial review cannot be abused to generate publicity and delay perfectly lawful decisions. This is an important part of the Government’s programme to tackle public burdens, promote growth and stimulate economic recovery.

Three of the reforms I am taking forward were previously announced in the national infrastructure plan and autumn statement on 4 and 5 December respectively. These are the establishment of a specialist planning court, with time scales for case progression in civil procedure rules, which will speed the consideration of challenges to planning decisions; changes to the way in which the courts deal with cases raising defects that are highly unlikely to have affected the outcome, so that judicial review focuses on matters of substance and not mere technicalities; and reforms to enable more cases to “leapfrog” directly to the Supreme Court, ensuring they are resolved more quickly.

In addition, I intend to take forward a robust package of reforms which will see claimants carry a more proportionate measure of financial risk when deciding whether to bring or continue weak claims. This package includes limiting the use of protective cost orders to exceptional cases with a clear public interest; ensuring that details of anyone financially backing a judicial review are disclosed, even if they are not named as a party, to ensure that costs can be fairly awarded; strengthening the implications for a legal representative of receiving a wasted costs order on account of their unreasonable or negligent behaviour; and making third parties who intervene in a judicial review case responsible for their own costs and any costs incurred by a party as a result of their intervention.

I will also bring forward changes to restrict payment to legal aid providers unless permission is granted, subject to discretionary payment by the Legal Aid Agency on my behalf. This change will help to ensure that limited legal aid resources are targeted where they are needed most, which is essential if the legal aid system is to command public confidence and credibility.

Clauses in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill being introduced today will give effect to several of these reforms, with the remainder delivered through changes to secondary legislation.