Last year there were 11,200 Judicial Reviews. This compares with 4,207 in 2004. Only the very rich or the very poor can afford to apply for Judicial Reviews – usually they are undertaken by the latter who can claim Legal Aid. Thus the taxpayer is paying for the lawyers on both sides.
Nobody knows what the total cost is but the costs for each case would often by £100,000 – sometimes less but often a lot more. That is just for the initial application, much more in the minority of cases where a full hearing is granted. Then there are all the QCs getting fat on the money paid by public authorities before they consult on a proposal to try and avoid a Judicial Review being mounted.
I would be surprised if total public spending on Judicial Reviews was under a billion a year, probably much more. A billion pounds is a lot of money – it could for instance raise the threshold on our earnings before were start being charged income tax from £8,105 to £8,305.
The ultimate success rate of these Judicial Reviews is a tiny 1.6%. Routinely a Judicial Review is undertaken in the name of the poor – yet the upshot is that the process transfers money from low paid taxpayers to high paid lawyers.
Apart from the cost of legal fees there is the cost to the economy of the delay. For major property developments creating new homes and jobs the delay will be much worse than the legal bill.
In his speech to the CBI yesterday David Cameron said he was going to address the matter as "so many are completely pointless."
We urgently needed to get a grip on this. So here’s what we’re going to do.
Reduce the time limit when people can bring cases.
Charge more for reviews so people think twice about time-wasting.
And instead of giving hopeless cases up to four bites of the cherry to appeal a decision, we will halve that to two.
This is welcome. Also welcome is the scrapping of Equality Impact Assessments – an alleged failure to carry one out properly was one of the opportunities for a Judicial Review application. (There is a blog post at systemsthinkingforgirls.com about what Equality Impact Assessments meant in reality.)
However Mr Cameron has not gone far enough. Withdrawal from the European Union would help a lot. As I have already noted, in terms of Lord Heseltine's call for planning decisions within six months, often the delay is due to Judicial Reviews which claim a failure to carry out some EU directive or another. That is a wider issue.
What is really needed though is to end the arrangement where these challenges can be mounted on Legal Aid. Putting up the fees from £275 won't make much odds. Those campaigning against a proposal find someone on benefits to front the application from whom this fee is waived anyway and, more to the point, can have vast lawyers fees from Legal Aid. Only the very rich or the very poor are in a position to get involved in this lark with its 98.4% chance of losing.
Not that a higher success rate for these challenges would be welcome. They are supposed to be about ensuring a proper process has been carried out but leave scope to a biased judge to allow his own opinions on the policy being proposed to sway him. Even when this doesn't happen opponents of a policy can achieve delay. This is undemocratic. If you don't like the policies being implemented by the Government or your local council the answer is to vote for someone else. Yet we have Harman's Revenge – having been defeated at the ballot box the Socialists try to thwart elected politicians via the courts.
David Cameron was right to identify the problem. But the answer is for his Government to stop paying for all these frivolous challenges. The Legal Aid tap mst be turned off.
Over to you, Chris Grayling.