24 Oct 2016, 33 mins ago

Judicial review is a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. In other words, judicial reviews are a challenge to the way in which a decision has been made, rather than the rights and wrongs of the conclusion reached. It is not really concerned with the conclusions of that process and whether those were ‘right’, as long as the right procedures have been followed and whether the body concerned acted properly and within its powers. The court will not substitute what it thinks is the ‘correct’ decision.

Applications for judicial reviews have risen from 160 to 11,200 since 1974. Last year there were more judicial review applications than ever before, compared to 4,207 in 2004. The vast majority of these – as they are every year – are immigration and asylum cases, where judicial review is often used as a last resort before deportation.

The Prime Minister made an announcement that he is to stop people forcing unnecessary delays to government policy to crack down on the increasing growth in the ‘business’ of judicial reviews. The reforms would cut the time limit for bringing judicial reviews from three months to six weeks, remove the right to oral renewal hearings and put the cost of an application up from £60 to £235, so as to limit the influx.

Opponents said that the reforms lacked detail and were not based on hard evidence. The Public Law Project said that “the proposals would make the civil justice system ‘more unfair, more inefficient and more inaccessible”. The detail of the changes is yet to be revealed, but the PM plans to “reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; [and] charge more for reviews – so people think twice about time-wasting”.

Some lawyers are concerned that the changes will be used to reduce genuine judicial reviews which hold the government and other public bodies to account. Restricting judicial reviews would seriously undermine justice and democracy. You already have to have a good case to get an application considered, but even the existing three-month time limit on filing a case obstructs many sound applications. For individuals or unprofitable organisations, raising funds to pursue such an application can take many weeks, and preparing a complex case again takes a lot of time.

The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law added: “If implemented, the proposals would be likely to make the law more complicated and more uncertain, and may serve to divert more cases into the courts by limiting the time available for non-litigious resolution of disputes”.