Perceptions that judicial review is an ineffective drain on the public purse and frequently abused by claimants are 'at best misleading and at worst false', according to a legal charity's study of 502 cases.
The Public Law Project says the success rates of challenges, ranging from 43% to 50% depending on the type of case, 'do not point to high levels of abuse'.
According to the study, claimants often obtain tangible benefits through judicial review and judgments 'are seen to have a significant impact in relation to policy, procedure, the clarity of the law and human rights protection'. In an implicit attack on the government's legal aid policy, it notes that legal aid played a significant role in enabling claimants to right wrongs.
'Restrictions on legal aid to support JR claims are likely to have a disproportionately adverse effect on those forced to resort to JR in order to obtain services to which they are legally entitled.'
The study was carried out with the University of Essex and London School of Economics. It examined 502 cases handled over 20 months by the administrative court, of which 35% dealt with immigration decisions. More than half of all the cases were brought against central government with local authorities the next most frequent defendants.
Even for public bodies on the losing end, the effects are not wholly negative, the authors claim.
Far from being a burden on local authorities, JR decisions can provide clarity and guidance on the law and an incentive to rethink approaches. Overall, there is 'a substantial body of evidence supporting the value of JR as a means to obtaining substantive redress where no other form of legal remedy exists.'
However, the study's authors concede that responses were heavily weighted towards claimant solicitors. 'Despite multiple reminders and follow-ups by email and phone, the response rate from defendant solicitors was significantly lower' with 25% of defendant solicitors replying compared with 49% among claimants.
Low participation by central government's Treasury Solicitor's Department 'was disappointing'.
Another caveat was that much of the analysis is based on lawyers' opinions. 'However, relying on what lawyers say about their own cases carries risks, given that their perspective may be limited' and lawyers may 'consciously or unconsciously stress positive outcomes for their clients'.