02 February 2011

Major study to scrutinise the value of judicial reviews

Colchester Campus

2 February 2011

Major study to scrutinise the value of judicial reviews

Does judicial review give judges too much power? Does the process waste public money? Or is judicial review a vital tool for holding government to account? These are some of the questions that researchers at the University of Essex will address in a major new study.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, researchers from Essex will work with the Public Law Project on the £223,400 study which is the most comprehensive of its type undertaken in the UK.

Judicial review is increasingly used to seek redress and many cases attract significant media coverage such as the challenges to the government’s Building Schools for the Future Programme and John Prescott’s litigation against the police after the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

Lord Chancellor Secretary of State for Justice, the Right Honourable Kenneth Clarke MP, recently commented on the growth of judicial review at the House of Lords Constitution Committee and noted its ability to restrict ministerial freedom. Professor Maurice Sunkin of the University’s School of Law commented: “Judicial review is regarded by many as a sign of the importance of the rule of law in the UK and of the ability of ordinary people to hold government to account.

“However, government ministers have been highly critical of judgments, alleging that judges have overstepped their authority when striking down decisions of elected politicians. It is also claimed that this kind of litigation, especially in an age of austerity, wastes public money and distracts public authorities.”

The two-year project which starts in March, will seek to obtain an independent evidence-based assessment of the value and effect of judicial review. As well as exploring the way government responds to judicial decisions and how often they result in changes of policy, the study will examine how ordinary claimants fare when public authority decisions that fundamentally affect their lives are reviewed by courts.

Professor Sunkin added: “The findings will throw light on wider discussions of the role of the courts and law in our democracy. They will also provide much-needed independent evidence that will be of benefit to all who are engaged in debate about access to justice in an age of austerity.”


Notes to editors
1. For further information contact Professor Maurice Sunkin, via the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or e-mail: comms@essex.ac.uk. Alternatively contact Diane Astin, Director of the Public Law Project, telephone: 020 7843 1262, e-mail: d.astin@publiclawproject.org.uk.

2. The research team will be led by Professor Maurice Sunkin of the School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. Varda Bondy will be the main researcher at the Public Law Project. The team will also include Dr Ellie Palmer, University of Essex, and Professor Lucinda Platt, Institute of Education, University of London. 

3. The Public Law Project (PLP) is a national legal charity which aims to improve access to public law remedies for those whose access to justice is restricted by poverty or some other form of disadvantage. Within this broad remit the PLP has adopted three main objectives: increasing the accountability of public decision-makers; enhancing the quality of public decision-making; and improving access to justice. Research constitutes an important aspect of its work and the PLP has been involved in a number of major investigations, many of which have been funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

4. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. More information is available at www.nuffieldfoundation.org.

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