Government plans to halve time limit for planning-related judicial reviews

The time limit for submitting a legal challenge to overturn a planning decision could be halved under government plans to reform the judicial review process.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) today revealed plans to cut the current period in which objectors can apply for a judicial review in planning-related cases from three months to six weeks.

It also proposes halving the number of opportunities to apply for a judicial review from four to two in certain situations and to raise the application fee.

The announcement comes after the Prime Minister David Cameron said last month that the government wanted to cut the number of judicial reviews, claiming they were hampering economic growth and that many applications were "completely pointless".

An MoJ consultation document states that planning-related judicial review application time limits should be brought into line with the deadlines for rights of appeal against planning decisions by the secretary of state after he "calls in" an application to consider.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, objectors have six weeks to lodge a challenge to a secretary of state planning decision with the High Court. But it says that, outside of the appeal process, any challenges to planning decisions made by local planning authorities - the bulk of all planning decisions - can only be made by judicial review, and in these cases a three-month deadline currently applies.

Where parties need more time to take legal advice and consider their position, the courts could "allow matters to be brought out of time where it is just and equitable to do so".

The document states: "The government believes that the combination of a shorter time limit with the court’s existing powers to grant an extension provides the right balance between reducing the burdens on public services and protecting access to justice."

The MoJ also proposes to reduce the number of opportunities for claimants to make repeated applications "where their case is weak" from four to two.

Currently, claimants can argue the case for permission through a written application and then an oral renewal hearing in both the High Court and, if they are unsuccessful, in the Court of Appeal.

It proposes to remove the right to an oral hearing in cases that the judge, based on the written submission, believes to be "totally without merit". The oral right would also be denied if there has already been a prior judicial process involving a hearing "considering substantially the same issue" raised as in the latest claim.

The document states: "The numerous opportunities to renew applications can lead to substantial delays, and incur significant costs to public authorities which they may have little prospect of recovering from the claimant."

Regarding fees, the MoJ said it wants to increase the cost of judicial review applications and hearings from £60 and £215 respectively up to £235.

It also wants to introduce a fee for the oral hearing at the same cost as a full judicial review hearing, which is currently £215 but likely to go up to £235.

But, the document says, where the oral application for permission is successful, the further full hearing fee would be waived.

It states: "The government is concerned that the fees charged in judicial review proceedings do not reflect the costs incurred in providing them."

The consultation document can be found here.

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