Government to clamp down on judicial reviews

19 Nov 12
Prime Minister David Cameron plans to restrict the right to seek judicial review of government policy, saying that many of the legal challenges are ‘completely pointless’.
By Richard Johnstone | 19 November 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron plans to restrict the right to seek judicial review of government policy, saying that many of the legal challenges are ‘completely pointless’.

In a speech to the CBI’s annual conference today, Cameron said the coalition government needed to ‘throw everything’ at creating growth, as the UK faced ‘the economic equivalent of war’.

Among reforms intended to help Whitehall implement policies quicker, Cameron also proposed scrapping statutory Equality Impact Assessments and cutting the period for other consultations.

He highlighted the ‘massive growth’ in judicial reviews, which allow individuals and organisations to challenge government decisions if they think they are being made unlawfully. Ministry of Justice figures show there were 11,200 judicial reviews in England and Wales last year, up from 160 in 1975.

Some were well founded, he said, such as Virgin Train’s call for a review of the decision to award the West Coast mainline franchise to rival FirstGroup, which resulted in the deal being voided.

However, he added: ‘Let’s face it: so many are completely pointless.

‘Last year, an application was around five times more likely to be refused than granted. We urgently need to get a grip on this.’

Proposed changes include reducing the period in which people can bring cases, charging more when they do and halving the maximum number of appeals from four to two.

The reforms, which would also apply to cases brought against local authorities, are intended to stop weak or ill-conceived cases being submitted even when the applicant knows there is no chance of success.

Reducing the current three-month statutory consultation period on government policies would also make government work quicker, Cameron said. In some cases, they could be scrapped entirely.

His experience of government ‘has been like someone endlessly writing a “pros and cons” list as an excuse not to do anything at all’, which he was ‘determined to change’.

It will now be down to ministers to decide how long a consultation was needed for various policies, if at all.

‘If you can get it done properly in a fortnight, great. Indeed the Department for Education has already had a consultation done and dusted in two weeks,’ he said. ‘And we are going further, saying [that] if there is no need for a consultation, then don’t have one.’

The publication of Equality Impact Assessments will end, with the government ‘calling time’ on the publications for each new policy.

Cameron said these waste taxpayers’ money. ‘Let me be very clear. I care about making sure that government policy never marginalises or discriminates. I care about making sure we treat people equally. But let’s have the courage to say it, caring about these things does not have to mean churning out reams of bureaucratic nonsense.

‘We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff.’

• Cameron was speaking after the CBI today called for a ‘radical shake-up’ of the education system in England.

The First steps report said raising educational attainment could add 1% to economic growth, and called for reforms to address the ‘conveyor belt of low performance’.

They include giving more freedom to teachers and a shift away from GCSEs to make the age of 18 the focus of secondary education, with vocational A-levels offered alongside traditional courses.

Highlighting the report, Cameron said education was ‘critical to thriving in the global race’. He added that the government’s ‘structural change’ in introducing more academies and free schools was improving provision.

‘By the end of this Parliament we’re going to have thousands of new academies, scores of new free schools, a system that is diverse, that welcomes competition and encourages innovation.’

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