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01/03/2014

Planning court will fast-track and ‘de-clog’ disputes

Courtroom Gavel - legal changes that affect planners

Planning disputes over large-scale infrastructure projects will be fast-tracked through a new specialist court to be established by the summer. 

About 400 planning cases, from schools to shopping centres, will go before specialist judges working to fixed timetables as part of a move by ministers to prevent “meritless” challenges clogging up the main administrative court system.
 
Justice secretary Chris Grayling (pictured) believes that the new court will halt a rise in judicial reviews, which have nearly trebled in a decade to more than 12,000 a year. The move has been prompted by concern that legal challenges to building projects can drag on for years, acting as a brake on large infrastructure projects and adding to uncertainty for businesses, local authorities and residents.
 
The strong package of reforms, following a consultation from September to November 2012, means that only individuals or groups with a financial interest in a case can bring a challenge. Therefore, individuals who make a claim face a fair level of financial risk – ending the current situation where individuals and campaign groups can cause expensive delays with no cost or risk for themselves.
 
Grayling said: “Judicial review must continue its role as a crucial check on the powers that be – but we cannot allow meritless cases to be a brake on economic growth. That would be bad for the economy, the taxpayer and the job-seeker, and bad for confidence in justice.
 
“These changes will bring balance to the judicial review system, so justice is done but unmerited, costly and time-wasting applications no longer stifle progress.”
 
According to the latest figures, judicial review applications have rocketed from 4,300 in 2000 to 12,600 in 2012. But of the 440 that went on to a final hearing without being refused permission, withdrawn or settled in 2011, only 170 went in favour of the applicant.
 
Planning cases often take more than a year to resolve, with an average time of 370 days in 2011.
 
Some of the measures will become part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which was introduced to Parliament in February. 
 

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