Government plans to limit the number of judicial reviews have been condemned by lawyers and campaign groups. A six-week consultation on the proposals, which the justice secretary says would stop ‘weak or ill-founded’ claims clogging the courts, ended last week apparently without a single response in favour.
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 raise the £60 fee to £235.
Responding to the consultation, groups including the Law Society and Bar Council highlighted the importance to the rule of law of decisions by public bodies being subject to challenge by judicial review.
Director of human rights policy at campaign group Justice, Angela Patrick, warned the changes would ‘significantly inhibit’ judicial oversight of decisions.
Opponents said that the reforms lacked detail and were based on anecdotal assertions without hard evidence. The Public Law Project added that these shortcomings rendered the consultation ‘flawed’. The proposals would make the civil justice system ‘more unfair, more inefficient and more inaccessible’, it said.
The Bar Council suggested that the changes would fuel additional satellite litigation and lead to increased work for the Court of Appeal.
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.’
While the bar accepted that the government should seek to reduce delays, it said the problem ‘is complex and needs a carefully thought-out solution’.
‘Tinkering with time limits and oral hearings following an absurdly short consultation is not the answer.’Chancery Lane also voiced concern about the short consultation period, particularly as it covered the Christmas and New Year holiday, warning: ‘The right to bring a judicial review to the courts is too important to be impaired by hasty reforms.’