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Speeding up judicial review – is a new planning court the answer?

Dominic Conte

26 September 2013
On 6 September the Government invited views on potential measures for the further reform of judicial review. As part of this, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling plans to introduce a specialist 'planning court' to reduce delays on major developments and drive out the meritless cases which slow down the entire system, leading to substantial delays and costs.

Dealing with a case load that has nearly tripled from 4,500 in 1998 to 12,400 in 2012, the judicial review system is under strain. In 2011, of the 400 planning cases which reached the Administrative Court, nearly 200 were for judicial review. The average time period from lodging an application to a full hearing was 470 days, well over an entire year. Meanwhile developers face mounting costs whilst sitting on stagnant sites.

The new proposals would introduce a specialist planning chamber in the Upper Tribunal. This would see a panel of expert judges deal with planning judicial review. This new streamlined process would hopefully speed up the processing of planning judicial review and would also help in developing planning as a specialised jurisdiction with consistent decision making and practices. This has been lauded as taking a "huge step forwards for the development community".

Grayling said, "Britain is winning the global race and we must do everything we can to keep pushing forwards – these proposals will ensure legal challenges are heard swiftly, so crucial new building projects no longer fall by the wayside because of needless delays."

Should the proposals come to fruition, it is yet to be seen whether such a solution would be able to deal with the huge backlog of cases that are currently slowing down the entire system. Transferring cases to the new chamber should allow planning cases to be better prioritised, but if it finds itself swamped by old applications, it may be some time before the benefits become apparent. The court would only work if it is properly resourced. It is vital that the Government put its money where its mouth is if its objectives are to be achieved.

Dominic Conte

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