'Sufficient interest' test could be toughened in latest move
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, is proposing yet more curbs on judicial reviews, 'The Times' reported this morning.
He announced a package of measures in April, including reduced time limits for bringing judicial reviews and greatly increased fees, which were implemented on the first day of this month.
The justice secretary defended further restrictions, part of the latest civil legal cuts, at the justice select committee earlier this month. The restrictions would include limiting public funding to successful applications.
Meanwhile the Commons joint committee on human rights said it had launched an inquiry into the legal aid cuts, and would be holding oral hearings in October.
According to The Times, ministers now want to change the test requiring applicants to have a 'sufficient interest' in the decision at issue to one which would "ensure that only those with a direct link to the policy or decision can challenge."
It was likely that proposals to change the 'sufficient interest' test would be brought forward this autumn for consultation, the newspaper said, "possibly as part of ongoing reforms to legal aid".
The number of judicial review cases has increased from almost 7,000 in 2007, to 12,000 in 2013, but the vast majority are related to immigration.
Prime minister David Cameron launched the government's offensive on judicial reviews in November last year, claiming that the current regime hindered infrastructure investment and economic growth.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "The government is committed to reducing the number of meritless and time-wasting judicial review cases which clog the courts and cause unnecessary delays to everyone else.
"We have already made a number of changes, including stopping people from having additional hearings even after their case has been considered 'totally without merit' by a judge, and announced earlier this year that we will be considering further measures."
Some people are never satisfied. Having introduced shorter time limits and higher fees for judicial review cases this spring, the justice secretary is already planning an absurd ‘no win, no pay’ scheme for legally aided applications . Now it seems he can’t resist a third bite at the cherry, or swing of the axe. According to The Times, Grayling wants to change the ‘sufficient interest’ test for people wanting to bring a JR to those with a ‘direct link’, whatever that means.
The case of Lewisham Hospital is a very good example of why we need judicial reviews. Last week the High Court quashed the health secretary’s decision to downgrade A & E and maternity services at the hospital. The background is that Jeremy Hunt wanted to shut down parts of Lewisham Hospital, which everyone including the court regards as excellent, and transfer the work to a hospital in Woolwich. The Woolwich hospital is part of the South London Healthcare Trust, one of the worst trusts in the country and currently losing £1m a week.
I am completely biased, because I live close to Lewisham Hospital. But why should one excellent public service be cut to pieces to prop up another, which is failing disastrously? The High Court ruled that the bureaucrat who came up with the plan had no power to decide the future of anywhere apart from the South London Healthcare NHS Trust. Whatever happens on appeal, that seems very sensible to me.
Nick Hilborne (news editor)