Minister unveils details of specialist planning court

The government has revealed details of the specialist court it plans to set up to deal with planning-related legal challenges.

Grayling: court which speed the consideration of challenges to planning decisions
Grayling: court which speed the consideration of challenges to planning decisions

The planning court is one of the measures proposed in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, published yesterday by justice minister Chris Grayling.

It will employ specialist judges to deal with disputed schemes, who will work to fixed time limits.

In September, the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on its proposals to reform and speed up the judicial review process, which it said had "expanded massively" in recent years.

A decision to set up the planning court was confirmed in the National Infrastructure Plan and Autumn Statement in early December.

The September consultation proposed the creation of a dedicated Land and Planning Chamber in the Upper Tribunal to review planning-related cases, building upon a new fast-track system for planning appeals in the Administrative Court.

But the government's response to the consultation said that, following representations from the senior judiciary, the planning court would be established in the High Court, "with a separate list under the supervision of a specialist judge".

The response added that this arrangement "will deliver the improvements" that the government had been minded to seek through the creation of a Planning Chamber in the Upper Tribunal.

"The Planning Court should be up and running more quickly without introducing uncertainty around the development of new rules and case management procedures that a Planning Chamber in the Upper Tribunal would have required," the document said.

In a statement, Grayling said he would be taking forward "the establishment of a specialist Planning Court, with timescales for case progression in Civil Procedure Rules, which will speed the consideration of challenges to planning decisions".

Grayling said further reforms would mean the judicial review process "focuses on matters of substance and not mere technicalities" and "enable more cases to ‘leapfrog’ directly to the Supreme Court, ensuring they are resolved more quickly".

Describing further changes, he added: "I intend to take forward a robust package of reforms which will see claimants carry a more proportionate measure of financial risk when deciding whether to bring or continue weak claims."

These measures include:

- Limiting the use of protective cost orders to exceptional cases with a clear public interest.

- Ensuring that details of anyone financially backing a judicial review are disclosed, even if they are not named as a party, to ensure that costs can be fairly awarded.

- Making third parties who intervene in a judicial review case responsible for their own costs and any costs incurred by a party as a result of their intervention.

Claire Dutch, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, said that the planning court "should help develop planning as a specialist jurisdiction with consistent decision-making".

She added: "It sounds good on paper, but will only speed up the system if properly resourced by specialist planning judges."

Simon Ricketts, a partner at law firm KWM SJ Berwin, described the move to a specialist planning court as a "sensible administrative step".

Environmental lawyer Richard Buxton said that he could see the value of having specialist planning knowledge, but warned that the planning court could have a potential downside.

He said: "The government needs to be careful that things do not become too cliquey. In my experience, non-specialist judges can offer a refreshing perspective."
Stephen Ashworth, a partner at law firm Dentons, said that he is not quite sure that the problems caused by judicial review in planning justify all this activity. "It's launching an Exocet to kill a mouse," he said.

The government’s response to the consultation can be found here.
The bill can be found here.

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