Research Case Study

Fighting for access to justice

Essex lawyers showed how Government reforms have limited access to justice for the most vulnerable.

  • Tagged under

    Economy, business, politics and society
    Human Rights

  • Lead Academic

    Professor Maurice Sunkin

Without judicial review Gina Miller could not have protected Parliamentary sovereignty in the triggering of Article 50, and Joanna Lumley would not have secured the rights of former Gurkhas wanting to settle in the UK. But Government reforms to judicial review have drastically reduced access, and vulnerable people are suffering.

In a landmark study, Essex lawyers showed that those Government reforms were not based on solid evidence and contrary to Government claims, the system is not open to widespread abuse.

Professor Maurice Sunkin
“We have proved that contrary to Government claims, there was neither massive growth nor real evidence of abuse of judicial review."
Professor Maurice Sunkin


What is judicial review?

Judicial review is a legal process providing redress, reviewing the lawfulness of decisions made by public bodies and making those public bodies legally accountable.

It has played a pivotal role in protecting the rights of vulnerable people and communities.

But its tangible benefits have not been fully understood, until now. 

Government reform

In 2014 the coalition Government sought to reform judicial review claiming that:

  • growth in judicial review was driven by claimants abusing the system.
  • the effect on public administration was largely negative.
  • judicial review rarely alters the decisions of public bodies.
  • Our project has shown these claims to be false.

Why do we need judicial review?

Using court records and questionnaires completed by solicitors for claimants and defendants, our researchers built the first, comprehensive data set on the use, impact and operation of judicial review.

They showed that:

  • Government had grossly exaggerated the scale of judicial review litigation.
  • Judicial review was not being abused by politically-motivated groups: 77% of claimants were individuals seeking resolution for disputes specific to them and just 3% were brought by interest groups.
  • Contrary to Government claims, judicial review has achieved tangible benefits: 80% of successful cases and 40% of unsuccessful challenges resulted in tangible benefits such as the retention of a public service

Protecting vulnerable people

Crucially, for the first time the project showed a direct link between claimants receiving legal aid and the tangible benefits of judicial review. Denying those people most dependent on public services access to legal aid, denied them access to justice.

Government hasn't listened yet, but who did?

The battle for protecting access to justice has been led by parliamentary committees, civil society groups, lawyers and courts. They have all cited the work of our study and continue the fight, despite the passing, in 2015 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act was passed.

The project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the report published by the Public Law Project.

Research team

  • Varda Bondy, Research Fellow, School of Law, University of Essex
  • Professor Lucinda Platt, Professor of Social Policy and Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Professor Maurice Sunkin, Professor of Public Law and Socio-Legal Studies, School of Law, University of Essex