Public authorities make decisions that have an impact on the public almost on a daily basis, none more so than at the present time in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Organisations such as a local authority, the NHS, the Home Office or Government Legal Service are obliged to act lawfully and the courts have a supervisory role with regard to such proceedings to ensure that the decision-maker adheres to their legal responsibilities.
The decisions made by such authorities can be challenged by means of a judicial review which challenges the lawfulness of the decision that has been made. The court in which the challenge can be made depends on the nature of the decision. Proceedings can be brought before the Planning Court or the Administrative Court, which is a specialist court within the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice.
Fernanda Stefani, a highly experienced administrative lawyer, commented "a public body must be seen to be impartial when making decisions and they must act fairly. There can be no personal or financial interest connected to the outcome of a decision." She further commented, "it may seem a daunting undertaking to confront an Authority over a decision that has been made but anyone with valid grounds has the right to pursue a Judicial Review in order to right a perceived wrong perpetrated by such an organisation."
As the name suggests the Planning Court carries out judicial reviews of decisions made by planning authorities, including appeals and applications relating to:
- Planning permission
- Development consent
- Compulsory Purchase orders
- Highways and other Rights of Way
- Decisions under EU environmental legislation
The Administrative Court on the other hand can assist you by carrying out a review of decisions made by other courts, tribunals and public bodies or bodies exercising the function of public bodies. Cases may be heard by one High Court judge or by a 'Divisional Court' which consists of two or more judges, normally a High Court Judge and a Lord Justice of Appeal.
You can bring applications such as:
- Judicial review of applications to prevent a vexatious litigant - someone who continues to initiate groundless legal proceeding – from continuing to do so without first obtaining permission from a court.
- Applications under the Coroners Court Act 1998 relating to the appointment and conduct of coroners.
- Applications for an order to imprison a person for contempt of court.
- Appeals under the Extradition Act 2003 – which deals with extradition requests to and from the United Kingdom as well as bail.
- Appeals against decisions made by certain professional bodies such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
- Applications for restraint orders or certificates of adequacy where assets have been frozen or confiscated.
The law requires a judicial review to be brought promptly and some decisions are made within a period of six weeks from the decision made by the Authority, however, for others, there is a three month period from the date of the decision. If you believe you have grounds for a judicial review you will need the assistance of a lawyer with experience with the procedure and the expertise to guide you as to the prescribed steps required to begin the process.
The first step to a judicial review is to write a formal letter to the proposed defendant clearly setting out your claim and what it is you are seeking, known as the pre-action protocol letter (PAP letter); the letter must conform with the Civil Procedure Rules. A response is normally expected with 14 days, this may vary depending on the specific facts of the case. If the response from the proposed defendant is deemed to be unsatisfactory, a claim can be lodged to bring the case before the court.
Once permission to proceed has been obtained you must complete a claim form outlining all the facts on which you intend to rely and the grounds that you believe make the decision unlawful, together with background information to the matter. Giambrone's inheritance, wills and trusts team can assist in drafting the statement of facts to be presented to the court and when the claim is issued. The defendant and all interested parties are issued with the papers and they are then able to submit their ground for defence. The court then passes the information to a judge who will decide if there is merit in the claim, rejecting any applications that are judged to be unsuitable for various reasons. Should a refusal be received there is an opportunity to "renew" and the decision can then be heard in open court.
If permission is granted the matter proceeds to a full hearing; the evidence from all parties will be received and "skeleton" arguments from the respective legal representatives will be presented. The judges will read the papers in advance of the hearing which is unlikely to be longer than three days. Either an oral or written judgment will be handed down, often followed by a discussion regarding the costs. It is not common for the judges to grant an appeal, any party wishing to appeal will usually have to apply to the Court of Appeal.
The impact of a poor decision can be reversed through the mechanism of a Judicial Review and any individual or group of individuals has the right to take this course action. Giambrone's lawyers will provide the expertise, guidance and support through the procedure.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.