New measures designed to cut the number of judicial reviews received a critical reception from immigration and environmental lawyers today.
The measures, confirmed today after a consultation that ended in January, include:
- a £215 court fee for anyone seeking a hearing in person after their initial written judicial review application has been turned down.
- Banning people from seeking a hearing in person if their initial written application has been ruled as totally without merit.
- Halving from three months to six weeks the time limit for applying for a judicial review of a planning decision.
- Cutting from three months to four weeks the time limit for applying for a judicial review of a procurement decision.
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, said: 'We are changing the system so it cannot be used any more as a cheap delaying tactic.'
However Sadiq Khan, shadow justice secretary, called on ministers to guarantee that the proposals would not insulate government decisions from legal challenge.
'Recent history has shown the importance of judicial reviews in exposing shoddy and unlawful government decision-making - whether it be the disastrous west coast mainline franchising or the botched cancelling of Building Schools for the Future,' he said.
'Making it more difficult to bring challenges will see an increased number of unlawful decisions going unchecked. Local charities, residents associations and communities groups will be squeezed out, leaving only well resourced and powerful organisations able to bring judicial reviews.'
Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental groups, the Coalition for Access to Justice for the Environment said that there was no evidence to support the government's claim that it was overwhelmed by judicial reviews on planning issues, nor any data to support a credible claim that judicial review presents a significant impediment to economic progress.
Carol Day, Solicitor at WWF-UK said: 'These measures will significantly affect our ability to protect the environment. Judicial review cases are not road traffic matters - they concern complex legal arguments of unlawful behaviour by public bodies.
'Restrictions on judicial review are of constitutional importance, and should not be confused with measures to cut red tape. Individuals and civil society groups should not be denied their fundamental constitutional right to check an abuse of power and protect the environment on the basis of costs-cutting.'
However, the British Property Federation welcomed the new curbs.
Liz Peace, chief executive, said: 'Planning cases make up a very small number of the total judicial review cases, but by speeding up the process it would deliver significant benefits in terms of enabling development to take place more quickly, by reducing investors' costs and the risks that discourage investment.'
The Ministry of Justice said that court rules will be put in place to implement the changes, which are expected to take effect this summer.