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21 January 2013

Legal experts debunk government claims that judicial review process needs reform

Professor Maurice Sunkin

A new blog written by top legal experts at the University of Essex and Public Law Project shows there is no reliable evidence base to justify the Government’s plans to reform the judicial review process.

With consultation on the Government’s proposals closing next week, the conclusion of co-authors Professor Maurice Sunkin of the University of Essex and Varda Bondy, Director of Research at the Public Law Project is especially timely: “The weakness of the evidence base for these reforms is startling and worrying and we can only hope that the Government will…think again before introducing reforms that will undermine the integrity of the judicial review process without achieving the Government’s desired aims.”

Using findings from several of their own recent studies which together make up the most comprehensive independent data on the use and impact of judicial review, the authors show how “the Government has greatly exaggerated the extent to which judicial review is used and has also exaggerated abuse of the process” according to Professor Sunkin.

Professor Sunkin and Varda Bondy show how a Ministry of Justice consultation paper published in December, which outlines the Government’s proposals and suggests there has been significant growth in the use of judicial review since the 1970s relies on “misleading” data. They show that aside from immigration and asylum cases – which make up the bulk of cases in recent years – it is quite possible that there has been no real increase in the number of judicial review applications.

The authors claim that to informed observers it is not the growth of judicial reform that is surprising and disconcerting. Instead it is that beyond immigration, judicial review has not grown more, despite factors such as the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the general heightened profile of the law and courts.

They also challenge the consultation paper’s inference that five sixths of claimants abuse the process by knowingly bringing claims without merit. The official statistics used by the Government are shown to be nothing more than “a very rough and ready way of determining how claims in particular years fare” according to the blog.

Professor Sunkin fears costly and unnecessary reforms of the process could in fact increase burdens on public bodies and have an adverse impact on access to justice.

The blog, hosted by the UK Constitutional Law Group is available online at: http://ukconstitutionallaw.org/blog/.

Ends

Notes to editors
1. For further information or to speak to Professor Maurice Sunkin, please contact the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or e-mail: comms@essex.ac.uk.
2. Those interested in finding out more about the consultation process and how they can be involved can find information on the Public Law Project website: www.publiclawproject.org.uk/index.html.
3. Professor Sunkin and Varda Bondy are currently collaborating on the largest empirically-based research project on judicial review and its impact ever undertaken in the UK. The 27-month project, which launched in 2011, is funded by a £220,000 research grant from the Nuffield Foundation.

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