Prime Minister misses the point on judicial reviews

David Cameron has announced plans to build a “leaner, faster” government, by means of a shakeup of the judicial review process. Rather than focusing on creating a system that would hold public decisions to account, the Prime Minister has promised to crack down on “time wasting” caused by the “massive growth industry” in legal challenges to government policy.

The stats speak from themselves: the number of judicial review applications used to challenge a decision by a public body has risen from 160 in 1975 to 11,200 in 2011. However, last year applications were five times more likely to be refused than granted.

The Prime Minister placed reforms to the judicial process at the center of his plans to ensure Britain can compete globally. The proposals include cutting the three month time limit on applying for a review and charging more “so people think twice about time-wasting”, however how much “more” is currently unclear. Currently, a fee of £60 is payable when permission for the application is lodged and a further £215 is payable if permission is granted. Legal costs can then run up to tens of thousands of pounds.

A recent example of a judicial review is the case of the West Coast rail franchise which saw Virgin Rail successfully overturn the Department for Transport decision to award the contract to FirstGroup. Another successful example is the legal challenge launched by Friends of The Earth on the Government’s plans to cut solar tariff incentives.

The Government appear to be missing the point; the process should be about speed and efficiency not making it harder to make a claim. Perhaps, rather than focusing on people and organisations causing unnecessary delays, the Government should be introducing what is currently lacking; proper checks to hold public decisions to account.