Who or what is a JR?

There has been much in the press lately about the impact of Judicial Reviews (JR’s) on major planning applications. Some find them a profound irritant. Others think they are the champion of the man in the street. Most of us tend to glaze over when they are mentioned. So Michael High, the CALNI vice-chair has been surfing the net and offers his engineers guide to JR’s.

Larry Hagman as J. R. Ewing in Dallas.

The JR’s that CALNI are interested in are nothing to do with the actor shown here. Judicial Reviews are serious, they are expensive and are not to be undertaken lightly. Wikipedia gives the following definition of a Judicial Review:-
Judicial review is a procedure … by which the courts supervise the exercise of public power on the application of an individual. A person who feels that an exercise of such power by a government authority, such as a minister, the local council or a statutory tribunal, is unlawful, perhaps because it has violated his or her rights, may apply to the Administrative Court (a division of the High Court) for judicial review of the decision and have it set aside (quashed) and possibly obtain damages. A court may also make mandatory orders or injunctions to compel the authority to do its duty or to stop it from acting illegally.

"The basis of judicial review rests in the free-standing principle that
every action of a public body must be justified by law..."
Laws LJ in R (Beeson) v Dorset County Council [2003] UKHRR 353 at [17]

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The fact that a High Court Judge can set aside the decision of a democratically elected Minister has proved to be particularly irksome to some Stormont ministers. However, the JR is not a blunt stick with which campaign groups such as CALNI can beat up poor defenceless politicians. It may only be invoked in particular circumstances. The Public Law Project has provided several helpful leaflets to explain in detail the nature of Judicial Reviews and how they should be used. They summarise the grounds for appeal to a JR as follows:-

The ultimate means by which public law disputes are resolved is by bringing the matter before the Administrative Court using a claim for judicial review. Broadly, in order to succeed, the claimant (the person or body bringing the case) will need to show that either:

  • the person or body is under a legal duty to act or make a decision in a certain way and is unlawfully refusing or failing to do so; or
  • a decision or action that has been taken is ‘beyond the powers’ (in Latin, ‘ultra vires’) of the person or body responsible for it.

Only then, will a public law wrong have occurred. Generally, it does not matter if the judge, faced with the same decision, would have decided the merits of the case differently. This reflects the fact that judicial review involves ‘supervision’ of administrative decision making – did the public body act in a lawful manner in deciding the way that it did. There are three categories of public law wrongs which are commonly used and which will be considered in turn:

  1. Illegality;
  2. Fairness; and
  3. Irrationality and proportionality.

At CALNI, we recognise that Planning Policy is set by our politicians and may be amended by them through legislation. If our politicians do not like the way that current policy will direct certain decisions, they are the people to change the policy. However, they cannot change policy or procedures on the fly. There is a due process to be followed and there are rules to be obeyed. If we feel that the process has not been followed or the rules broken, we will ask permission of the Court to seek a Judicial Review.

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Links to related news items reported by the BBC…

Poots voices anger over planning delays, 30th September, 2010

Attorney General asked to rule on Poots comments, 5th October, 2010

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