The government is to push ahead with proposals to reduce the time limit for applying for judicial review of planning decisions, despite an overwhelmingly negative response to a consultation on the plans.
The government published a consultation on its proposals to reform the judicial review process in December.
In its consultation response, published today, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it would cut the current period during which objectors can apply for judicial review in planning-related cases from three months to six weeks.
It also said it would introduce a £215 court fee for anyone seeking a hearing in person once their initial written judicial review application has been turned down.
The MoJ said there were 198 responses to the proposal to shorten the time limit for judicial review applications. Of these, 44 respondents (22 per cent) agreed with the proposal, 133 disagreed (67 per cent) and 21 (11 per cent) neither agreed nor disagreed.
Its analysis of comments on the consultation says that “members of the legal profession, those responding from representative bodies and members of the public were strongly opposed to the proposals”.
Most respondents identified “the risk of an increase in claims being issued prematurely so that claimants would be able to protect their position”, the document reports.
The MoJ response says the government acknowledges concerns that the reforms, and in particular the proposal to shorten the time limit in planning cases, have the “potential to affect those with disabilities, those with mental health issues and learning difficulties, as well as Gypsy and Traveller communities”.
However, it adds that the government believes that “this is justified because the decisions in planning cases follow planning processes in which interested third parties can participate”.
In his introduction to the consultation response, justice secretary Chris Grayling says there is a “body of support” for the overall proposals to reform the judicial review process, mainly among businesses and public authorities.
Despite this, Grayling accepted that most of the responses received were opposed to reform: “There was criticism of the consultation procedure and the lack of evidence, and some saw the proposals as a serious attack on the rule of law.”
But he added: “I do not accept these criticisms. My reforms target the weak, frivolous and unmeritorious cases which congest the courts and cause delays.
“I want to discourage those who seek to use judicial review for PR purposes, or as a tactical device to cause delay. But nothing in these reforms will prevent those who have arguable claims from having their cases heard.”
Grayling said the changes were “straightforward procedural reforms, which will be introduced as soon as possible”.
He added that the government is continuing to review the case for further reform, “in particular to streamline the process for planning and infrastructure projects, which we are aiming to develop by the summer”.
The property industry has welcomed the changes. Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “Planning cases make up a very small number of total judicial review cases, but speeding up the process would deliver significant benefits in terms of enabling development to take place more quickly, by reducing investors’ costs and the risks that discourage investment.
“A less talked about, but equally important impact, is the cost to local planning authorities and hence the taxpayer. They have to spend significant resources in defending each claim, resources which they are increasingly unable to recover, even where the claim fails.”
But campaign group the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) criticised the proposals. Senior transport campaigner Ralph Smyth said: “The government is using the small proportion of judicial reviews that are ultimately successful to justify a clampdown.
“Yet this ignores all the cases that are settled successfully. By cutting the time limit for applying for judicial review in planning cases by more than half, there will be fewer opportunities to settle cases in future. So there is a real likelihood that the reforms will slow down the court system as well as deny local communities environmental justice.”
The full consultation response can be read here – https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/judicial-review-reform