Report challenges Government criticism of judicial review

23 October 2015

A major study of judicial review funded by the Nuffield Foundation has contradicted Government claims that the process is widely abused, of little value to claimants and a burden on public bodies.

Contrary to statements made by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, the latest report by researchers from the University of Essex, London School of Economics, and the Public Law Project has demonstrated that judicial review is a key avenue for the most vulnerable members of society to hold public bodies to account, and helps improve policy and practice.

The study was led by Professor Maurice Sunkin of the School of Law at the University of Essex. Professor Sunkin worked with Varda Bondy of the Public Law Project and Professor Lucinda Platt of London School of Economics. 

He said: “Recent reforms of judicial review make it much more difficult for individuals to challenge unlawful and arbitrary decisions. They also make it more difficult to hold public bodies to account. Judicial review is of constitutional importance and it is crucial that restrictions on its use be justified by strong evidence. The evidence base for the reforms did not meet the necessary standard.” 

“Our research shows that judicial review produces tangible benefits, both to individuals and the public. It is striking that even in those cases where challenges are unsuccessful, public bodies have willingly made positive changes in direct response to issues raised by claimants.”

“Crucially too, we have established a direct link between legal aid funding and obtaining tangible benefits. This is of considerable importance because it reminds us that those members of society most dependent on public services are often the most vulnerable, and we must ensure they continue to have access to justice.”

The team collated the most comprehensive set of empirical evidence to date on the effects of judicial review judgments. They found that 77% of claimants were individuals seeking resolution for disputes specific to them, and that just 3% were brought by interest groups, contradicting Government claims that the growth of judicial review has been driven by politically-motivated claimants abusing the system.

Their research also showed that 80% of successful cases, and 40% of unsuccessful challenges, resulted in tangible benefits such as the retention of a public service, contrary to claims that it rarely alters decisions made by public bodies.

They also found that: claimants receiving legal aid were more likely to obtain tangible benefits from their claims (65% of cases) than privately-funded claimants (42%); and that in 47% of cases the claimant was successful and success was no lower for cases with wider public interest implications than those relating to specific individuals.

Download the full report of the project findings (PDF)