Thursday, 13 February 2014

Judicial review – a different solution?

One of the drawbacks of judicial review, as anyone who has ever been involved with the process will be very well aware, is that when a decision is quashed by the court the decision under challenge is not reversed; it is simply set aside, leaving the decision-maker to retake the decision. The decision-maker in redetermining the matter can very easily reach the same decision again, provided that they do so in a way that avoids the legal error that led to the original decision being quashed. There are several examples of which I am aware where there have been successive quashing orders of a retaken decision; but the public body or authority involved will nearly always get their own way in the end. Thus a successful action seeking to judicially review an unlawful action or decision all too often proves to be a pyrrhic victory.

The court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the LPA or other body whose decision is under challenge, because the court simply does not have before it all the relevant facts that would need to be taken into account and weighed up in retaking the decision, nor does it have the necessary expertise to exercise a technical (as distinct from legal) judgment. But in planning cases, at least, it would be entirely possible to introduce amending legislation (whether primary legislation or, possibly, a simple rule change) to provide that when planning permissions and perhaps certain other planning-related decisions by LPAs are quashed, jurisdiction would then pass to the Secretary of State (in practice, the Planning Inspectorate on his behalf) to redetermine the application as if it had been made to him in the first instance. This might or might not involve a public inquiry, depending on the circumstances of the case. A mandatory order requiring the issue of an enforcement notice (admittedly very rare in practice) might also be transferred to the Secretary of State for implementation.

I am not aware of this suggestion ever having been put forward before, although I would not be at all surprised to learn that something of this sort may have been canvassed at some time in the past. However, I do not expect that it is an idea that government (of any political persuasion) is likely to take up, unless there is a groundswell of opinion resulting from dissatisfaction at the outcome of the current judicial review process in planning cases.


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