Slow Claim Coming: Limiting JRs

To live outside the law, you must be honest

(Bob Dylan)

This blog post covers:

⁃ the principles to be applied in relation to bringing a late claim for judicial review

⁃ the Environmental Audit Committee’s scrutiny of the enforcement and JR aspects of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill

⁃ The Supreme Court’s ruling on legislative provisions that seek to exclude the right to legal challenge.

Exciting, not?

Late JR claims

My 7 April 2018 blog post Fawlty Powers: When Is A Permission Safe From Judicial Review? looked at the whole question of JR time limits and referred to the High Court’s ruling in the Thornton Manor case, where the court allowed a claimant to bring a claim for judicial review more than five and a half years after the decision complained of.

That ruling has now been upheld in R (Thornton Hall Hotel Limited) v Wirral MBC (Court of Appeal, 30 April 2019).

Do read my previous blog post, or more reliably the judgment itself, for an account of the exceptional facts with which the court was faced. In deciding whether the judge was wrong to extend time for the claim to be brought, the Court of Appeal helpfully set out the principles to be applied:

(1) When a grant of planning permission is challenged by a claim for judicial review, the importance of the claimant acting promptly is accentuated. The claimant must proceed with the “greatest possible celerity” – because a landowner is entitled to rely on a planning permission granted by a local planning authority exercising its statutory functions in the public interest.”

(2)  When faced with an application to extend time for the bringing of a claim, the court will seek to strike a fair balance between the interests of the developer and the public interest (see Sales L.J. in Gerber, at paragraph 46). Where third parties have had a fair opportunity to become aware of, and object to, a proposed development – as would have been so through the procedure for notification under the Town and Country Planning (General Development Management Procedure) Order 2010 (“the 2010 Order”) – objectors aggrieved by the grant of planning permission may reasonably be expected to move swiftly to challenge its lawfulness before the court. Landowners may be expected to be reasonably alert to proposals for development in the locality that may affect them. When “proper notice” of an application for planning permission has been given, extending time for a legal challenge to be brought “simply because an objector did not notice what was happening” would not be appropriate. To extend time in such a case “so that a legal objection could be mounted by someone who happened to remain unaware of what was going on until many months later would unfairly prejudice the interests of a developer who wishes to rely upon a planning permission which appears to have been lawfully granted for the development of his land and who has prudently waited for a period before commencing work to implement the permission to ensure that no legal challenge is likely to be forthcoming …” (see Sales L.J. in Gerber, at paragraph 49). When planning permission has been granted, prompt legal action will be required if its lawfulness is to be challenged, “unless very special reasons can be shown ...””

“(3)  Developers are generally entitled to rely on a grant of planning permission as valid and lawful unless a court has decided otherwise (see Sales L.J. in Gerber, at paragraph 55). A developer is not generally required “to monitor the lawfulness of the steps taken by a local planning authority at each stage of its consideration of a planning application””.

“(4)  What is required to satisfy the requirement of promptness “will vary from case to case”, and “depends on all the relevant circumstances”. If there is a “strong case for saying that the permission was ultra vires”, the court “might in the circumstances be willing to grant permission to proceed”, but “given the delay, it requires a much clearer-cut case than would otherwise have been necessary” (see Keene L.J. in Finn-Kelcey, at paragraphs 25 to 29).”

“(5)  The court will not generally exercise its discretion to extend time on the basis of legal advice that the claimant might or should have received.”

“(6)  Once the court has decided that an extension of time for issuing a claim is justified and has granted it, the question cannot be re-opened when the claim itself is heard.”

“(7)  The court’s discretion under section 31(6)(b) requires an assessment of all relevant considerations, including the extent of hardship or prejudice likely to be suffered by the landowner or developer if relief is granted, compared with the hardship or prejudice to the claimant if relief is refused, and the extent of detriment to good administration if relief is granted, compared with the detriment to good administration resulting from letting a public wrong go unremedied if relief is refused…8)  It being a matter of judicial discretion, this court will not interfere with the first instance judge’s decision unless it is flawed by a misdirection in law or by a failure to have regard to relevant considerations or the taking into account of considerations that are irrelevant, or the judge’s conclusion is clearly wrong and beyond the scope of legitimate judgment

“(8)  It being a matter of judicial discretion, this court will not interfere with the first instance judge’s decision unless it is flawed by a misdirection in law or by a failure to have regard to relevant considerations or the taking into account of considerations that are irrelevant, or the judge’s conclusion is clearly wrong and beyond the scope of legitimate judgment”

Applying these principles:

The extension of time sought in this case – an extension of more than five years from the date of the challenged decision – is, to use the judge’s word, “extreme”. That is undeniable. As the authorities show, it would only be in the most unusual circumstances that such an extension would ever be granted (see, for example, Schiemann L.J. in Corbett, at paragraph 14; and Hobhouse L.J. in ex p. Oxby, at pp.294 to 296 and 302 to 303). It is, in our view, very important to emphasise this. One cannot say, however, that the court’s power to extend time is automatically extinguished after any given period has elapsed. We are concerned here with a judicial discretion, not a fixed statutory limitation. A clear theme in the relevant case law, as one would expect, is that in every case where delay has occurred the court must look closely at all the relevant facts in the round. The facts will vary widely from case to case. In Corbett a total delay of six years was not in itself fatal to the granting of relief, but it was held that there was no longer a need to quash the planning permissions because they had in the meantime been modified by an order under section 100 of the 1990 Act, made by the Secretary of State, and a quashing order would deny the landowners the compensation due to them for the modification. In ex p. Oxby this court granted relief after a delay of about two years, during which the existence and facts of the unlawfulness infecting the local planning authority’s decision emerged. Generally, of course, very late challenges will not be entertained. However, as Sales L.J. said in Gerber (at paragraph 49), in a particular case there may be “special reasons” to justify the extension sought. To say, as this court did in Connors (at paragraph 87), that an exercise of judicial discretion to allow “very late challenges” to proceed in planning cases will “rarely be appropriate” implies that sometimes it may be appropriate – and necessary in the interests of justice.

There can be no doubt that the circumstances of this case, viewed as a whole, are extremely unusual. Indeed, we would go further. They are unique. The question for us, however, is whether, in combination, they can properly be said to amount to an exceptional case for extending time to allow the challenge to be brought before the court. In our view, in agreement with the judge, they clearly can.”

Factors in this case:

“The first point to be made, and a crucial one, is that the scope of the proceedings in this case is not the usual scope of a claim for judicial review in the planning context. As Mr Alan Evans for the council accepted, and as the judge recognised, it is beyond dispute that the planning permission under challenge ought not to have been issued without its conditions. It was issued in that form without lawful authority.

“This is not a case […] in which the practical effect of the unlawfulness was immediate upon the grant of planning permission.”

“We accept, as all three parties submit, that the council acted unlawfully in concealing its error. It initially attempted to put matters right by generating a fictitious decision notice and manipulating the planning register. Whether its intention was to reverse its error or to obscure it, the effect of the action it took was only to disguise what it had in fact done. It has not, however, resisted the claim. It could, of course, have done a good deal more than it has. It might, for example, have made use of its statutory power of revocation under section 97 of the 1990 Act, or its power to make a discontinuance order under section 102 – though this could have given rise to a claim for compensation by Thornton Holdings. It might have been able to deploy its powers of enforcement at an appropriate stage. It might have brought the matter before the court itself by a timely claim for judicial review issued in the name of a councillor – as was done, for example, in ex p. Oxby. It did none of those things, and even now it shows no such inclination. However, it now acknowledges that the decision notice it issued on 20 December 2011 was, and remains, clearly invalid. Far from resisting the challenge, or adopting a neutral stance, it has actively supported the claim, urged the judge to quash the planning permission, and has appeared in this court to resist the appeal. That is another highly abnormal feature of these proceedings.”

It is also, we think, a factor of considerable weight in this case that Thornton Holdings were well aware from the outset that the planning permission had been wrongly issued, and knew precisely what the council’s error had been.”

“In the circumstances, contrary to the argument presented to us by Mr Christopher Lockhart- Mummery Q.C. for Thornton Holdings, we cannot accept that they have suffered any material hardship or prejudice as a result of the delay in the claim being issued. Indeed, if anything, the delay worked in their favour, in the sense that it enabled them to take advantage of an unrestricted grant of planning permission that they knew the council had never resolved to grant. That too is a most unusual feature of this case, in sharp distinction to others – such as Finn-Kelcey, Gerber and Connors – where the court has rejected lengthy extensions of time. The reality is that, from December 2011 until the judge’s order, Thornton Holdings had the benefit of a more generous grant of planning permission than would have been so if the council had not mistakenly issued the decision notice it did. If at any stage they were concerned about the risk of the council’s error being discovered and a claim for judicial review being made, they decided to operate in the knowledge of that risk, and in spite of it.”

The late claim was allowed. But the court has set out its reasoning carefully, such that I cannot see that the ruling will in any way open the floodgates to a greater risk of late, unexpected, challenges.

OEP JRs

My 22 December 2018 blog post The Office For Environmental Protection covered DEFRA’s draft Environment (Principles and Governance Bill) and in particular the proposal in the draft Bill that the Office for Environmental Protection once established could bring judicial reviews in its own right, outside usual judicial review timescales.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has now published its report on its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill (25 April 2019). On the proposed judicial review procedure there is this passage in relation to the OEP’s proposed enforcement powers, including potential to seek judicial review:

The UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) told us the proposed notice procedures are very slow, with two-month time periods for response. It said that if a breach is serious or ongoing, this could be too long a delay before court action can be taken by the OEP. Tim Buley agreed that since the time limit for judicial review is very strict, “three months ordinarily, six weeks in some environmental contexts”, it would not be appropriate to have it at the end of the process while the OEP has been conducting its investigation and the harm may have already happened. UKELA supported the OEP having a power to make an emergency application for judicial review and Tim Buley said the OEP should have the ability to bring a judicial review at the start of the process. Professor Macrory outlined that it would be helpful for the OEP to have an additional power to be able to intervene in environmental judicial reviews undertaken by other parties. He said that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which has such powers under Equality Act 2006, has made very effective use of them.”

The Committee recommended as follows:

We recommend that:

The Bill should allow the Office for Environmental Protection to bring a judicial review at the start of the process in rare cases where a delay could cause further environmental harm.

The Bill should specify that the Office for Environmental Protection bringing enforcement proceedings does not prevent others who wish to bring a judicial review.

The Office for Environmental Protection should be given the power to act as an intervener in environmental judicial reviews undertaken by other parties.

Clauses 22 and 23 should be amended to include an obligation on the Office for Environmental Protection to act on responses to information or decision notices, or to explain to the complainant why no further action has been taken. This would provide a ratcheting approach to enforcement.

Overall, the enforcement procedure lacks imagination and the Government must consider alternative mechanisms. We have heard compelling evidence that there should be an expanded role for the First-tier Tribunal. This would help to resolve more cases before the need to apply for judicial review.

We recommend the Government looks further into a bespoke enforcement procedure and an expansion of the role and remit of the General Regulatory Chamber in the First-tier Tribunal. For example, where the Office for Environmental Protection is able to issue notices (at first advisory, then latterly binding) with a range of compliance recommendations, to which the public authority must then comply, or set out proportionate reasons why not. The Office for Environmental Protection would then be able to challenge a decision not to comply with the notice at the tribunal. The tribunal would undertake a substantive review of the authority’s decision not to comply with the notice. Any failure to comply with a decision should amount to contempt and be referable to the Upper Tribunal. Section 202 of the Data Protection Act 2018 provides a useful guide as to how this could be achieved in the legislation.”

Ouster clauses

Finally, superficially away from planning law but very relevant to bear in mind for any future re-framing of the system, the Supreme Court handed down judgment last week in R (Privacy International) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal (Supreme Court, 15 May 2019), a significant public law case as the legal effectiveness (or not) of “ouster” clauses in legislation, which seek to limit or remove rights to challenge in the courts matters carried out pursuant to the particular legislation. The strict six week time limit in judicial review in relation to decisions made pursuant to town and country planning legislation is of course a limitation. Such limitations have been held to be reasonable and permissible, as opposed to outright exclusions – held not to be legally effective by a 3 – 2 majority in the House of Lords in the 1968 Anisminic v Foreign Compensation Commission case.

The Privacy International case concerned the legal effectiveness or not of Parliament’s attempt in legislation to prevent legal challenges to decisions of the tribunal which hears complaints about, amongst other matters, general warrants granted to government agencies to intercept electronic communications.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (“IPT”) is a special tribunal established under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (“RIPA”) with jurisdiction to examine, among other things, the conduct of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters (“the intelligence services”). Section 67(8) provides:

“Except to such extent as the Secretary of State may by order otherwise provide, determinations, awards, orders and other decisions of the Tribunal (including decisions as to whether they have jurisdiction) shall not be subject to appeal or be liable to be questioned in any court.””

“There is an obvious parallel with the “ouster clause” considered by the House of Lords in the seminal case of Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147 (“Anisminic”). Section 4(4) of the Foreign Compensation Act 1950 provided:

“The determination by the commission of any application made to them under this Act shall not be called in question in any court of law.””

In the course of lengthy discussion in the judgments as to the extent of the courts’ power to override legislative limitations as to legal challenge, the planning system gets a quick specific mention:

“...the courts have not adopted a uniform approach, but have felt free to adapt or limit the scope and form of judicial review, so as to ensure respect on the one hand for the particular statutory context and the inferred intention of the legislature, and on the other for the fundamental principles of the rule of law, and to find an appropriate balance between the two. Even if this was not always the way in which the decisions were justified at the time, it may be seen as providing a sounder conceptual basis. Thus in the planning cases, it having been accepted that the statutory grounds cover all the traditional ground of judicial review, there is no difficulty in holding that the six-week time-limit provides a proportionate balance between effective judicial review, and the need for certainty to enable such decisions to be acted on with confidence.”

The Supreme Court held by a 4 – 3 majority that the absolute prohibition on legal challenge in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was not legally effective.

No doubt a blow to any future governments looking to sidestep the undoubted inconvenience to their activities that judicial review represents. But fundamentally important for all of us who worry how tempting it would be for the courts’ role as a check on the unjustified use of state power, to be neutralised in various areas of legislation.

Interesting to see that the Policy Exchange think tank, with its free market views on the planning system, popped up to denigrate the Supreme Court for allowing the appeal:

Professor Richard Ekins, head of thinktank Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project, said the ruling ‘undermines the rule of law and violates the sovereignty of parliament’.  He said: ‘A majority of the court has chosen to misinterpret an ouster clause – the statutory provision which expressly limits the High Court’s jurisdiction to review decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Parliament chose to limit judicial review by creating a specialist tribunal to consider complaints against the intelligence services. It is not the Supreme Court’s place to unravel this choice.'” (Law Society Gazette, 15 May 2019).

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Simon Ricketts, 18 May 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Pic courtesy Bob Dylan

Lessons From The Heathrow Cases

In my 15 October 2016 blog post Airports & Courts I made the obvious prediction that publication by the Secretary of State for Transport of the Airports National Policy Statement (“ANPS”) would inevitably lead to litigation. The ANPS is important because under the Planning Act 2008 it sets the policy basis for a third runway at Heathrow to the north west of the current runways (the “NWR Scheme”).

It was always going to be important for the High Court to be able to rise to the (in a non-legal sense) administrative challenge of disposing of claims efficiently and fairly. The purpose of this blog post is to look at how that was achieved (no easy feat) and what we can learn more generally from the court’s approach to the litigation

The ANPS was designated on 26 June 2018 and five claims were brought seeking to challenge that decision:

⁃ A litigant in person, Neil Spurrier (a solicitor who is a member of the Teddington Action Group)

⁃ A group comprising the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Greenpeace and the Mayor of London

⁃ Friends of the Earth

⁃ Plan B Earth

⁃ Heathrow Hub Limited and Runway Innovations Limited [unlike the other claimants above, these claimants argue for an extension of the current northern runway so that it can effectively operate as two separate runways. This scheme was known as the Extended Northern Runway Scheme (“the ENR Scheme”)]

Arora Holdings Limited joined as an interested party to each set of proceedings in pursuance of their case for a consolidated terminal facility to the west of the airport.

The Speaker for the House of Commons intervened in the Heathrow Hub Limited claim to object to various statements made to Parliament and Parliamentary Committees being admitted in evidence.

The first four claims raised 22 separate grounds of challenge. The fifth claim raised a further five grounds of challenge.

As Planning Liaison Judge, ie effectively lead judge within the Planning Court, Holgate J in my view has played an extremely effective role. Following a directions hearing, ahead of a subsequent pre-trial review three months later, he laid down a comprehensive set of directions on 4 October 2018 which provided for:

⁃ the first four claims to be heard at a single rolled up hearing, followed by the fifth claim

⁃ the cases to be heard by a Divisional Court (ie two or more judges, normally a High Court Judge and a Lord Justice of Appeal. In the event, the four claims were heard by a Divisional Court comprising Hickinbottom LJ and Holgate J. The fifth claim was heard immediately afterwards by a Divisional Court comprising Hickinbottom LJ, and Holgate and Marcus Smith JJ.)

⁃ video link to a second court room and (paid for jointly by the parties in agreed proportions) live searchable transcripts of each day’s proceedings

⁃ procedure to be followed in relation to expert evidence sought to be submitted in support of the first claim

⁃ statements of common ground

⁃ amended grounds of claim, with strict page limits and against the background of a request from the judge to “review the extent to which they consider that any legal grounds of challenge previously relied upon remain properly arguable in the light of the Acknowledgments of Service“, and with specific claimants leading on individual issues

⁃ bundles and skeleton arguments complying with strict page limits and other requirements

⁃ payment of security for costs by Heathrow Hub Limited in the sum of £250,000

⁃ cost capping in the other claims on Aarhus Convention principles

The main proceedings were heard over seven days in March, with the Heathrow Hub proceedings then taking a further three days (followed by written submissions). As directed by Holgate J, hearing transcripts were made publicly available.

Less than six weeks after close of the Heathrow Hub hearing, judgment was handed on 1 May 2019 in both case:

R (Spurrier & others) v Secretary of State (Divisional Court, 1 May 2019)

R (Heathrow Hub Limited & Runway Innovations Limited) v Secretary of State (Divisional Court, 1 May 2019)

The transcript of the first judgment runs to 184 pages and the transcript of the second judgment runs to 72 pages.

I am not going to summarise the judgments in this blog post but happily there is no need as the court at the same time issued a summary, which serves as a helpful précis of the claims and the court’s reasoning for rejecting each of them.

The Divisional Court found that all but six grounds were unarguable (the six being two Habitats Directive grounds from the first case, two SEA grounds from the first case and two from the second case (legitimate expectation and anti-competition). “All the other grounds were not considered not to have been arguable: the claimants may apply for permission to appeal against the Divisional Court’s decision concerning those grounds to the Court of Appeal within 7 days. The remaining six grounds were ultimately dismissed. The claimants may apply to the Divisional Court for permission to appeal within 7 days. If the Divisional Court refuses permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, the claimants may re-apply directly to the Court of Appeal.”

The Secretary of State for Transport gave a written statement in the House of Commons on the same day, welcoming the judgments.

The two judgments will be essential reading in due course for all involved in similar challenges; the 29 grounds, and various additional preliminary points, cover a wide range of issues frequently raised in these sorts of cases and each is carefully dealt with, with some useful textbook style analysis.

In the Spurrier judgment:

– the scope for challenge of an NPS (paras 86 to 90)

⁃ relationship between the NPS and DCO process (paras 91 to 112)

⁃ extent of duty to give reasons for the policy set out in the NPS (paras 113 to 123)

⁃ consultation requirements in relation to preparation of an NPS (paras 124 to 140)

⁃ standard of review in relation to each of the grounds of challenge (paras 141 to 184)

⁃ the limited circumstances in which expert evidence is admissible in judicial review (paras 174 to 179)

⁃ whether updated information should have been taken into account (paras 201 to 209)

⁃ whether mode share targets were taken into account that were not realistically capable of being delivered (paras 210 to 219)

⁃ the relevance of the Air Quality Directive for the Secretary of State’s decision making (paras 220 to 285)

⁃ compliance with the Habitats Directive (paras 286 to 373)

⁃ compliance with the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (paras 374 to 502)

⁃ whether consultation was carried out with an open mind (paras 503 to 552)

⁃ whether the decision to designate the ANPS was tainted by bias (paras 553 to 557)

⁃ the relevance of the Government’s commitments to combat climate change (paras 558 to 660)

⁃ whether there was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (paras 661 to 665)

In the Heathrow Hub judgment:

⁃ legitimate expectation (paras 113 to 138)

⁃ use of Parliamentary material in the context of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights (paras 139 to 152)

⁃ competition law (paras 157 to 209).

As we wait to see whether any of these claims go further, I note that Arora has commenced pre application consultation ahead of submitting a draft DCO for a “consolidated terminal facility to the west of the airport, which we are calling Heathrow West, related infrastructure and changes to the nearby road and river network.” Now that is going to be another interesting story in due course. I’m not sure we have previously seen duelling DCOs…

Simon Ricketts, 4 May 2019

Personal views, et cetera

The Office For Environmental Protection

And through it all the Office for Environmental Protection

A lot of love and affection

Whether I’m right or wrong..”

The Secretary of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, presented the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill to Parliament on 19 December 2018.

It is important that we understand the new regime that is proposed and start to form views as to whether it is fit for purpose, given that (1) its provisions will replace the environmental protections currently provided by way of EU law and that (2) it would be unfortunate if any new system were to introduce additional uncertainties, unnecessary requirements or causes of delay. What will the implications be for the English planning system?

Having said that we don’t yet have the full picture.

First, because (following a commitment given by the prime minister in July 2018) this draft Bill is going to be rolled into a wider Environment Bill in 2019 which, according to the draft Bill’s foreword by Michael Gove, “will contain specific measures to drive action on today’s crucial environmental issues: cleaning up our air, restoring and enhancing nature, improving waste management and resource efficiency, and managing our precious water resources better.”

Secondly, because this draft Bill does not yet include the Government’s commitment in the withdrawal agreement to “non regression” from current EU environmental laws (see my 16 November 2018 blog post Big EU News! (Latest CJEU Case on Appropriate Assessment & A Draft Withdrawal Agreement))although of course we wait to see what happens to that agreement, yet to be approved by Parliament.

Thirdly, because the provisions in the draft Bill are a framework for more detail to come forward by way of, for instance, a Government policy statement on environmental principles and a strategy to be prepared by the proposed Office for Environmental Protection setting out how it intends to exercise its functions. More on this later. What this draft Bill does do is discharge the requirement in section 16 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 for draft legislation to be published setting out the way in which environmental principles will be maintained post-Brexit, and the statutory body that will be established to police them (see my 18 September 2018 blog post Planning, Brexit).

Deal or no deal?

The intention is that this new legal regime should in place ready for when we leave the jurisdiction of EU law. Whilst if we have a withdrawal agreement this will be at the end of any transition period, we could be left with a potential hiatus in the case of a “no deal” Brexit. If there’s no deal there will be more urgently newsworthy issues than the implications of that situation for the environment (it was noteworthy that the publication of the draft Bill last week attracted no real attention from the mainstream media as far as I could see) but this was rightly a matter of concern for the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee in its report on the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment, to which the Government in its 6 November 2018 Response said this:

Government is confident of leaving the EU with a deal on an implementation period, which the EU has also confirmed it would like to agree. However, we are stepping up preparations within government and Defra to make sure that a new statutory body is in place as soon as is practically achievable in the event of a no deal exit, with the necessary powers to review and, if necessary, take enforcement action in respect of ongoing breaches of environmental law after the jurisdiction of the CJEU has ended. This will mean that the Government will be held accountable as under existing EU law from the day we leave the EU.

As mentioned previously, the EU (Withdrawal) Act will ensure existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law after exit, providing businesses and stakeholders with maximum certainty as we leave the EU. Until the new body is in place, for example, existing mechanisms will continue to apply: the Parliamentary Ombudsman will process complaints about maladministration; and third parties will be able to apply for Judicial Review against government and public authorities.”

The draft Bill

If you click into the draft Bill – and please do because this blog post is not a complete summary – you will see that the draft legislation itself (34 clauses and a schedule) is sandwiched between:

⁃ Michael Gove’s foreword – the first paragraph will give you an idea of the tone:

Leaving the European Union is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for this country to help make our planet greener and cleaner, healthier and happier. We are seizing this chance to set a new direction for environmental protection and governance, in line with the government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it.”

⁃ A long set of explanatory notes which include an explanation of the policy and legal background as well as a detailed commentary on the provisions of the draft Bill, including much by way of statements of what is intended that is absent from the draft Bill itself.

The foreword describes the two main strands of the draft Bill (although in the reverse order to how they are actually dealt with).

Firstly, we will establish a world-leading, statutory and independent environment body: the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). This body will scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints, and take action where necessary to make sure environmental law is properly implemented.

Secondly, we will establish a clear set of environmental principles, accompanied by a policy statement to make sure these principles are enshrined in the process of making and developing policies

Definitions

The “environment” can often have a broad meaning.

For instance in the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive the following factors need to be addressed in environmental impact assessment:

“(a) population and human health;
(b) biodiversity, […];
(c) land, soil, water, air and climate;
(d) material assets, cultural heritage and the landscape;

(e) the interaction between the factors referred to in points (a) to (d).”

However, in the draft Bill a much narrower definition is adopted:

“31 (2) Environmental matters are—

(a)  protecting the natural environment from the effects of human activity;

(b)  protecting people from the effects of human activity on the natural environment;

(c)  maintaining, restoring or enhancing the natural environment;

(d)  monitoring, assessing, considering, advising or reporting on anything in paragraphs (a) to (c).”

So this is just about the “natural environment“, defined in clause 30 as

“(a)  wild animals, plants and other living organisms,

(b)  their habitats,

(c)  land, water and air (except buildings or other structures and water or
air inside them),

and the natural systems, cycles and processes through which they interact.”

Environmental law” is even narrower, as it is defined as any legislative provision (other than legislation devolved to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or, without the Secretary of State’s consent, the Northern Ireland Assembly) that is mainly concerned with an environmental matter and that is not concerned with an excluded matter – excluded matters are:

⁃ greenhouse gas emissions;

⁃ access to information;

⁃ the armed forces, defence or national security;

⁃ taxation, spending or the allocation of resources with government.

The Secretary of State can by regulations specify specific legislative provisions as falling within or outside the definition of “environmental law“.

The explanatory notes to the draft Bill say that, based on these provisions “most parts of legislation concerning the following matters, for example, would normally be considered to constitute environmental law:

⁃ air quality (although not indoor air quality);

⁃ water resources and quality;

⁃ marine, coastal or nature conservation;

⁃ waste management;

⁃ pollution;

⁃ contaminated land.

They go on to assert that the following matters would not normally constitute environmental law:

⁃ forestry;

⁃ flooding;

⁃ navigation;

⁃ town and country planning;

⁃ people’s enjoyment of or access to the natural environment;

⁃ cultural heritage;

⁃ animal welfare or sentience;

⁃ animal or plant health (including medicines and veterinary products);

⁃ health and safety at work.

“”Environmental principles” means the following principles—

(a)  the precautionary principle, so far as relating to the environment,

(b)  the principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage,

(c)  the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source,

(d)  the polluter pays principle,

(e)  the principle of sustainable development,

(f)  the principle that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of policies and activities,

(g)  the principle of public access to environmental information,

(h)  the principle of public participation in environmental decision-making, and

(i)  the principle of access to justice in relation to environmental matters”

What the Secretary of State must do

The draft Bill provides that Secretary of State must prepare a policy statement on environmental principles. “The statement must explain how the environmental principles are to be interpreted and proportionately applied by Ministers of the Crown in making, developing and revising their policies.” It may also explain how ministers, “when interpreting and applying the environmental principles, are to take into account other considerations relevant to their policies.” Ministers must “have regard” to the policy statement “when making, developing or revising policies dealt with by the statement“. Nothing in the statement shall require a minister to take (or to refrain from taking) any action if it “would have no significant environmental benefit” or “would be in any way disproportionate to the environmental benefit“.

Wow! Regardless of how robust or otherwise the policy statement turns out to be, count the get-outs in that last paragraph.

The draft Bill also provides that the Secretary of State must prepare an environmental improvement plan. The first one will be the current document entitled “A green future: our 25 year plan to improve the environment” (11 January 2018). It must be kept under review, with the next to be completed by 31 January 2023 and thereafter at least every five years.

The Office for Environmental Protection

Details of the membership, staffing and functions of this new body are set out in the schedule to the draft Bill.

The Office for Environmental Protection would monitor and report on environmental improvement plans, monitor the implementation of environmental law, and advise on proposed changes to environmental law. It would also have an important enforcement role.

It must prepare a strategy setting out how it intends to exercise its functions, including its complaints and enforcement policy, having regard to “the particular importance of prioritising cases that it considers have or may have national implications, and the importance of prioritising cases—

(a)  that relate to ongoing or recurrent conduct,

(b)  that relate to conduct that the OEP considers may cause (or has caused) significant damage to the natural environment or to human health, or

(c)  that the OEP considers may raise a point of environmental law of general public importance.”

The explanatory notes suggest that individual planning decisions will not be a focus of the OEP’s attention:

The definition of national implications will be for the OEP to determine, but this provision is intended to steer the OEP to act in cases with broader, or more widespread significance, rather than those of primarily local concern. For example, an individual local planning or environmental permitting decision would not normally have national implications, whereas a matter with impacts or consequences which go beyond specific local areas or regions could have.

Anyone except public bodies can raise a complaint with the OEP where a public authority has failed to comply with environmental law. The public authority’s internal complaints procedure must first have been exhausted. The explanatory notes state:

A wide range of bodies including the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Planning Inspectorate, for instance, operate complaints procedures which will apply to their functions concerned with the implementation of environmental law.”

Complaints must be made within a year of the failure complained of, or within three months of when any internal complaints procedure was exhausted. The OEP “may” carry out an investigation if in its view the complaint indicates that the authority has failed to comply with environmental law and “the failure is serious“. It must provide to the authority a report as to whether it considers that the authority has failed to comply with environmental law, its reasoning and recommendations (whether for the authority or generally) in the light of its conclusions. There will be a process of information notices and decision notices. The authority receiving a decision notice must respond within two months or such later timescale is given, setting out whether it agrees with the notice and what steps it intends to take.

There is then a curious clause, clause 25, which deals with enforcement. Within three months of the deadline for the authority responding to the decision notice, the OEP can make an application to the High Court for judicial review. After any such proceedings, the relevant authority must publish a statement “that sets out the steps (if any) it intends to take in light of the outcome of those proceedings“.

So what would these proceedings seek to achieve? A declaration from the court or something more, some kind of enforcing order? Would the authority’s decision that is the subject of the complaint be liable to be quashed? If so, plainly concerns arise that decisions will no longer be able to be safely relied upon by parties where the usual judicial review period has expired – it would be worrying if decisions could be at risk for much longer via this elongated OEP complaints procedure.

Concluding thoughts

Without seeing the rest of what will be in the eventual Environment Bill, and without see the nature of any “non regression” commitment (if indeed it survives the current politics), I’m left feeling entirely unclear what practical role the mechanisms in the draft Bill will really have. There are certainly numerous questions:

⁃ Are the definition of environmental matters and environmental law too narrow?

⁃ Will the policy statement on environmental principles either be too weak or alternatively extend its reach into other regimes, for instance leading to the risk of causing confusion as to the application of principles set out in the National Planning Policy Framework?

⁃ Are there too many get-outs on the part of Government?

⁃ Will the OEP really be able to influence the Government’s approach when it comes to politically contentious issues? The Committee on Climate Change has not been a good precedent.

⁃ Is there confusion as to the role of the OEP when it comes to investigating possible breaches of environmental law, in that surely this is a matter for existing enforcement bodies such as the Environment Agency and for the courts?

And whilst from the explanatory notes the intention appears to be that this regime would not directly affect town and country planning, in reality matters such as environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment and the treatment of protected nature conservation sites are central to the planning process, so it seems to me that unfortunately this isn’t a debate that planners and planning lawyers can ignore.

Simon Ricketts, 22 December 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Town Library, New Wing: Decision Letters

Town announcement

One of the joys of starting up Town Legal with colleagues has been the opportunity to play with technology so as to see how up to date information relevant to planners and planning lawyers can be made more readily available, with a little bit of focus on where the gaps are. We have constantly asked ourselves what may be useful to increase people’s understanding and ability to predict outcomes, but which may not be fully accessible?

That was the rationale for the Planning Court Judgments weekly update (with its click through to a full, searchable, list of Planning Court judgments since 2014), announced in my 2 August 2018 blog post . The update now has around 370 subscribers. The latest update, for the week ending 16 November 2018, is at this link. Free subscription is still available via this link. I am really grateful for the hard work of Susie Herbert and other Town associates in preparing, to a weekly deadline, the various case summaries.

We can now announce another Town Library service: a weekly list of decision letters issued in the preceding week by the Secretary of State or Planning Inspectorate. The list comprises section 77 and 78 appeals in relation to proposals for major development that have been determined following a public inquiry, rather than informal hearing or written representations. The latest update, for the week ending 16 November 2018 is at this link. Free subscription is available via this link.

This latest service goes beyond the Planning Court judgments service in that it is fully automated. It was again devised by us in association with legal engineers Wavelength Law, drawing upon the Planning Inspectorate’s website. We are grateful to the Planning Inspectorate for its online service and hope that our weekly updates will assist people both in accessing its content and in generally gaining a better understanding of likely appeal outcomes. Not part of the free update service but with Wavelength’s help we can re-cut the PINS data (which we have in a searchable database going back to 2012) in all manner of ways for individual requirements – if this would be useful for a particular project that we are acting on do let me know – or another Town partner.

Please bear with us as we continue to experiment with update formats and continue to iron out various issues but, as always, comments and suggestions are very welcome. We have plenty more strands of development underway.

I have always loved libraries.

Simon Ricketts, 22 November 2018

Personal views, et cetera

A Promise Is A Promise

I set out the principles of legitimate expectation in my 24 March 2018 blog post Once More Unto The Breach Of Legitimate Expectation, Dear Friends and referred to 29 November 2017 Lang J’s judgment at first instance in Save. The Court of Appeal has now partly overturned that judgment, in R (Save Britain’s Heritage) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 4 October 2018). The case resulted from the Secretary of State’s decision not to call in the application for planning permission for the proposed Paddington Cube development, although given that planning permission and listed building consent was subsequently granted by Westminster City Council for that development, which was beyond challenge, these proceedings continued to the Court of Appeal on a basis which was only academic as far as that development was concerned.

Lang J had reached a curious conclusion. She accepted that a legitimate expectation had arisen, as a result of statements in 2001 (first in a green paper and then in ministerial statements), repeated in a 2010 ministerial statement, that the Secretary of State would give reasons when deciding not to exercise his power to call in planning decisions. But she found that “in 29 February 2014, in the course of preparation for the High Court case of Westminster City Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2014] EWHC 708 (Admin), a departmental decision was made to cease the practice of giving reasons” and therefore the earlier statements and practice relied upon by the claimant “could no longer found an expectation that reasons would be given. If any such expectation was held, it had ceased to be a legitimate one, because of the change in practice.”

Lang J accordingly dismissed the claim, in effect concluding that a promise could be publicly given by Government and privately retracted.

The Court of Appeal took a different view. The judgment of Coulson LJ is pretty scornful as to the Government’s position and the circumstances of the alleged 2014 change in policy:

It is the SoS’ case that, at some unknown date early in 2014, a decision was taken not to give reasons for a decision declining to call in an application and that, since then, such decision letters have been issued without giving reasons. The confused circumstances in which this change came about, and the extent to which it could fairly be said to be a change of policy at all, are dealt with in greater detail in Section 5 below.”

“…it is a recipe for administrative chaos if a legitimate expectation can be generated by an unequivocal ministerial promise, only for it then to be lost as a result of an unadvertised change of practice.”

“…it is worth noting how and why the SoS says that this change of practice occurred. It appears that, in the Westminster case, the Minister had given reasons for not calling in the decision which were plainly wrong on their face. As a result of this error, somebody (and it is quite unclear who) within the Department for Communities and Local Government decided that it would be more prudent for reasons not to be given under s.77. In consequence, changes were made to the template letter sent out (to the relevant LPAs, or to the objectors who had requested call in) when a decision was made not to call in an application under s.77. Mr Harwood QC was therefore right to say that this was not an open or transparent way to withdraw a public ministerial promise made in Parliament.”

“…a close textural analysis of the samples included in the court bundle only serves to confirm that the alleged change of practice relied on by the SoS was negligible.

From the SoS’ point of view, therefore, so far, so bad: but it gets worse. Ms Lieven QC was counsel for the SoS in the Westminster case. When Lang J asked her how it was that the change in practice had occurred, it was apparent from her answers (given on instructions) that, at the time of the Westminster case in 2014, nobody in the Department recalled or had in mind the unequivocal promise made in 2001 (and repeated in 2010). Thus, Mr Harwood QC was right to submit that the change in practice relied on by the SoS was brought about in ignorance of the 2001 policy promise. So, even on the SoS’ case, the promise to give reasons was never consciously withdrawn, whether for good reason or not; it had instead been forgotten altogether. In consequence, neither of the typical answers to a legitimate expectation claim identified in paragraph 39 above (a conflict with other statutory duties or a reasonable decision not, after all, to honour the promise) can arise on the facts of this case. It is difficult to see how a person can be said to have changed a policy of which they were unaware at the relevant time.”

Accordingly, it seems to me that the legitimate expectation rightly identified by Lang J did not come to an end as a result of the confusion and muddle generated by the Westminster case and/or the apparent decision to make, at best, minor changes to the template letter. An unequivocal promise was made, and that unequivocal promise should have been publicly withdrawn when (or if) a conscious decision was taken no longer to give reasons for not calling in applications under s.77. For these reasons, I consider that SAVE’s legitimate expectation case has been made out.”

A separate ground of appeal, that Lang J was wrong not to find that there was a general duty to give reasons, quite aside from any legitimate expectation, failed.

The 2014 Westminster case referred to in Save did indeed cause “confusion and muddle“. That case related to a challenge by English Heritage to the decision of the then Secretary of State not to call in an application for planning permission made to Lambeth Borough Council for the redevelopment of Elizabeth House, next to Waterloo Station. In that case Westminster City Council was an objector, having objected to the application and having sought call-in without success.

Whilst it was accepted that there was no general duty to give reasons, the argument made was that the Secretary of State had volunteered reasons and therefore they had to be adequate.

The Secretary of State’s letters to Westminster City Council and Lambeth Borough Councils, informing them that the application would not be called in, were said by Collins J to be “badly drafted” and on their face showing errors in the application of the Secretary of State’s call in policy.

The judgment contains this classic sentence in relation to the letter sent to Lambeth:

It is so obviously wrong particularly, as will become apparent, when read with the advice given that it cannot and does not reflect the defendant’s thinking.”

Collins J accepted the submissions of Nathalie Lieven QC, on behalf of the Secretary of State, that the letter was so bad that it could not have been intended to contain any reasoning!

Ms Lieven supported by Mr Harris and Mr Simons submitted that the letter was doing no more than informing the recipient LBL that the defendant had decided not to call in the application. She accepted as was inevitable that it was poorly drafted and that in effect that part of it should be ignored. It was not purporting to give reasons. She relies on the advice given to the defendant and in effect submits that since neither the defendant nor Mr Boles could conceivably have believed that it did not engage some of the matters which required consideration to be given to calling in the application it could not have set out the defendant’s thinking nor could it properly have done so.

Mr Cameron understandably expressed surprise that it was said that the letter was so obviously wrong that the defendant could not have meant what is set out in it. However, I am satisfied that regrettably that is the case. The letter cannot be regarded as one which was intended to give reasons. The defendant was relying on his right not to give reasons and the letter must be read accordingly. It is plain when the advice to him is seen that he could not have been unaware of nor could he have misunderstood his policy. It follows that the first three grounds relied on must fail since in addition there is no question of giving reasons. While it may be that it would be desirable if the defendant were required to give reasons why he decided not to call-in in a case which did meet the criteria for call-in but it is not open to me in the light of the existing authorities to impose such a duty.”

A brave but successful defence. No wonder that in the context of those letters being under the microscope, civil servants presumably decided that it would be safer to stay well away from giving reasons – although the Secretary of State was fortunate that the claimant did not argue breach of legitimate expectation, because surely, on the basis now of Save, that case was wrongly decided

So what is the practical effect of the Court of Appeal’s ruling in Save? It is a useful statement of the law in relation to legitimate expectation where that expectation arises by way of a promise and of immediate effect in relation to future decisions which the Secretary of State may make as to whether or not to call in planning applications for his own determination but of course the Secretary of State can change his policy on giving reasons at any time, as long as he does it formally and openly. Will he?

Simon Ricketts, 5 October 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Pic courtesy of Mixology

The Town Library: Planning Court Case Law Resource

If you are a user of this blog, you may be interested in our new resource: The Town Library. It has been a labour of love.

In starting up as a planning law firm, what we really wanted was a case law service providing weekly summaries of, and hypertext links through to, all final judgments of the Planning Court from the previous week, as well as all subsequent appellate judgments and other court rulings of relevance to planning lawyers, together with access to a complete chronological list of all rulings since the Planning Court was established in April 2014. We found that this sort of focused resource is not available, even on a paid subscription basis from commercial providers of legal information services.

But rather than giving up, we embarked on creating our own service, helped by legal engineers Wavelength Law and the invaluable BAILII case law resource (to which we have made a charitable donation).

Our summaries (prepared by my colleagues Susie Herbert and Harriet Ballard) start in March 2018, although the list of cases in the Town Library goes back to 2014.

For the last couple of months we have been testing and using the Town Library internally but now, and until further notice, we are opening this up as a free service to all. The system please just requires your details for subscription to the weekly update (click here).

Some restrictions and disclaimers:

⁃ Summaries are provided for information only rather than to be relied upon as legal advice.

⁃ This is a free service and we depend on the goodwill of BAILII. Please abide by their reproduction and copyright policy and consider a donation – the Government should take responsibility for ensuring that there is free access to rulings of our courts, but it doesn’t.

⁃ Weekly updates may be sparse between now and the new court term starting on 1 October (although there have been a few interesting cases this week which will appear in next week’s update).

⁃ We are learning as we go. Feedback is welcome. Please don’t be surprised if there is the occasional glitch or omission.

We hope soon to be able to draw upon all of this information so as to provide some statistical analysis that I hope will help regular users of the Planning Court. My 8 July 2018 blog post raised an eyebrow at what little specific information there is as to how the court is performing.

Further wings of the Town Library are…planned.

Simon Ricketts, 2 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Planning Court

Time flies. The Planning Court started life on 6 April 2014, as a specialist list within the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court.

The Queen’s Bench Division includes the Administrative Court, which is responsible for public law claims, which are usually pursued by way of judicial review or by way of a quasi- judicial review statutory challenge or appeal, allowed for in a specific piece of legislation. As described in detail in a February 2014 piece by Richard Harwood QC, the Planning Court evolved from the Administrative Court’s fast track procedure which had been established to allocated important planning cases to be heard quickly before specialist judges.

As defined in Part 54 of the Civil Procedure Rules, a ‘Planning Court claim’ means:

“a judicial review or statutory challenge which —

(a) involves any of the following matters —

(i) planning permission, other development consents, the enforcement of planning control and the enforcement of other statutory schemes;

(ii) applications under the Transport and Works Act 1992;

(iii) wayleaves;

(iv) highways and other rights of way;

(v) compulsory purchase orders;

(vi) village greens;

(vii) European Union environmental legislation and domestic transpositions, including assessments for development consents, habitats, waste and pollution control;

(viii) national, regional or other planning policy documents, statutory or otherwise; or

(ix) any other matter the judge appointed under rule 54.22(2) considers appropriate; and

(b) has been issued or transferred to the Planning Court.”

Since February 2017, Holgate J has been the Planning Liaison Judge, overseeing the operation of the Planning Court and allocating cases to judges with appropriate expertise.

His “no nonsense” approach might be discerned from this blistering passage in R (Network Rail Infrastructure Limited v Secretary of State (Holgate J, 8 September 2017):

I regret the need to have to make some observations on the inappropriate manner in which the claim was put before the court. I do so in order to make it plain to litigants that the practices that were followed in this case, and regrettably sometimes in others, are not acceptable. Notwithstanding the clear statement by Sullivan J (as he then was) in R (Newsmith Stainless Ltd) v Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions[2001] EWHC (Admin) 74 at paragraphs 6-10, this claim was accompanied by six volumes comprising over 2,000 pages of largely irrelevant material. The Claimant’s skeleton argument was long, diffuse and often confused. It also lacked proper cross-referencing to those pages in the bundles which were being relied upon by the Claimant. The skeleton gave little help to the court.

Shortly before the hearing the court ordered the production of a core bundle for the hearing not exceeding 250 pages. During the hearing, it was necessary to refer to only 5 or 6 pages outside that core bundle. Ultimately, as will be seen below, the claim succeeds on one rather obvious point concerned with the effect of the Grampian condition in the 2016 permission. But this had merely been alluded to in paragraph 76 and the first two lines of paragraph 77 of the skeleton. Indeed, the point was buried within the discussion of Ground 3 of the claim, a part of the Claimant’s argument to which it does not belong. Nevertheless, Mr Tim Buley, who appeared on behalf of the Defendant, acknowledged that he had appreciated that this point could be raised. He was ready to respond to it.

Certainly, for applications for statutory review or judicial review of decisions by Planning Inspectors or by the Secretary of State, including many of those cases designated as “significant” under CPR PD 54E, a core bundle of up to about 250 pages is generally sufficient to enable the parties’ legal arguments to be made. In many cases the bundle might well be smaller. Even where the challenge relates to a decision by a local planning authority, the size of the bundle need not be substantially greater in most cases.

Prolix or diffuse “grounds” and skeletons, along with excessively long bundles, impede the efficient handling of business in the Planning Court and are therefore contrary to the rationale for its establishment. Where the fault lies at the door of a claimant, other parties may incur increased costs in having to deal with such a welter of material before they can respond to the Court in a hopefully more incisive manner. Whichever party is at fault, such practices are likely to result in more time needing to be spent by the judge in pre-reading material so as to penetrate or decode the arguments being presented, the hearing may take longer, and the time needed to prepare a judgment may become extended. Consequently, a disproportionate amount of the Court’s finite resources may have to be given to a case prepared in this way and diverted from other litigants waiting for their matters to be dealt with. Such practices do not comply with the overriding objective and the duties of the parties (CPR 1.1 to 1.3). They are unacceptable.

The Court has wide case management powers to deal with such problems (see for example CPR 3.1). For example, it may consider refusing to accept excessively long skeletons or bundles, or skeletons without proper cross-referencing. It may direct the production of a core bundle or limit the length of a skeleton, so that the arguments are set out incisively and without “forensic chaff”. It is the responsibility of the parties to help the Court to understand in an efficient manner those issues which truly need to be decided and the precise points upon which each such issue turns. The principles in the CPR for dealing with the costs of litigation provide further tools by which the Court may deal with the inappropriate conduct of litigation, so that a party who incurs costs in that manner has to bear them.”

However, the lack of recent statistics as to the performance of the Planning Court is frustrating.

Anecdotally, I would suspect that there is a small reduction in the overall number of claims, no doubt partly due to the toughened approach to costs protection for claimants since 28 February 2017 . For those claims that are brought, the permission stage appears to be an increasingly difficult hurdle and (particularly with that stage having been introduced since 26 October 2015 into statutory challenges) fewer claims are getting to a full hearing. On the other hand, increasingly, controversial or complex cases are being actively case managed so that they proceed directly to a “rolled up” hearing. Despite the increasingly small pool of specialist judges, we are not seeing particular delays in case listings. However, this is an individual reaction not rooted in data and your experience may be different?

Last month the Ministry of Justice published its quarterly justice statistics (to March 2018) but they do not separate out the performance of the Planning Court.

There is a table showing the success rate of “planning and related” statutory challenges (ie not judicial reviews but applications under specific statutory provisions such as to quash inspectors’ and the Secretary of State’s decision letters, local plans and so on) that went to a full hearing. Most, but not necessarily all, of these will be been heard by the Planning Court. The statistics do indeed show a decreasing number of statutory challenges that go to a full hearing.

What is more problematic is that the data on judicial review does not separately identify Planning Court cases, simply breaking down judicial review cases into “civil – immigration and asylum”, “civil – other” (which includes planning), criminal and “unknown”.

It would be good to have for example reliable statistics as to overall numbers of judicial review claims in the Planning Court, the proportion that fall at the permission hurdle, overall success rates and timescales.

After all, one of the objectives behind the establishment of the court in 2014 was to provide for a speedier process. For “significant” claims there are specific target timescales.

Significant cases are defined as those which:

“(a) relate to commercial, residential, or other developments which have significant economic impact either at a local level or beyond their immediate locality;

(b) raise important points of law;

(c) generate significant public interest; or

(d) by virtue of the volume or nature of technical material, are best dealt with by judges with significant experience of handling such matters.”

Practice Direction 54E, which governs claims in the Planning Court states:

3.4 The target timescales for the hearing of significant (as defined by paragraph 3.2) Planning Court claims, which the parties should prepare to meet, are as follows, subject to the overriding objective of the interests of justice—

(a) applications for permission to apply for judicial review or planning statutory review are to be determined within three weeks of the expiry of the time limit for filing of the acknowledgment of service;

(b) oral renewals of applications for permission to apply for judicial review or planning statutory review are to be heard within one month of receipt of request for renewal;

(c) applications for permission under section 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are to be determined within one month of issue;

(d) planning statutory reviews are to be heard within six months of issue; and

(e) judicial reviews are to be heard within ten weeks of the expiry of the period for the submission of detailed grounds by the defendant or any other party as provided in rule 54.14.”

Anecdotally, yes claims are indeed largely dealt with pretty quickly compared with elsewhere in the High Court but are these specific targets being met? And is the proportion increasing of claims that are failing at the permission stage (and, if so, what does that tell us)?

So, what do the general JR statistics show?

This is an extract from a table showing success rates:

In 2017 there were 4,196 claims lodged. 15% (615) were granted permission on the papers and 59% (2,484) were refused. Of those 2,484 claims, 146 obtained permission at oral renewal stage. Of those 761 claims, only 181 went to a full hearing and of those only 88 were found in favour of the claimant. Of course at each stage, proceedings are often settled, perhaps some were still waiting to be heard and a few may subsequently succeed on appeal, but that is quite some sieving, with only 2% of the total number of claims lodged resulting in a finding for the claimant.

Another table starts to break down those 4,196 claims, showing that well over half of JR claims still relate to immigration and asylum claims. Only 1,722 of them related to other civil claims (ie including Planning Court JR claims).

Who are the defendants? The commentary says this:

Local Authorities had 713 applications lodged against them (third largest recipient), down 6% on the previous year. Of these cases, 216 were granted permission to proceed to final hearing (30% of applications), and of these, 33 were found in favour of the claimant.

Finally, what about timescales? There is just this table:

The cases that went to a full hearing in 2017 took on average 194 days (working days I assume) from being lodged to a final hearing decision, although the figures may end up slightly worse than that if some cases have not yet concluded.

Am I missing a whole level of detail or is this really the best that we have in terms of the High Court’s performance in relation to planning law matters? And are up to date statistics for the Planning Court really not publicly available?

Simon Ricketts, 6 July 2018

Personal views, et cetera