Defending the right to challenge decisions

Fighting the Godmanchester case

Fighting the Godmanchester case

We’ve spoken up about proposed changes to the law about judicial review – the process through which the way decisions have been made by public bodies can be challenged – which would have a negative impact on campaigning and lobbying groups if they were to go ahead.

The Government is proposing changes to the law which would limit the ability of organisations, like the Ramblers, who campaign and lobby on important issues to bring judicial review proceedings where they believe decisions have been unlawfully made.

Campaigning and lobbying groups have been accused of bringing cases without merit to judicial review in order to generate cheap headlines, of using court time and public money to object to lawful Government policy and of delaying and frustrating Government decision-making.

Our occasional use of judicial review has been to clarify or reassert the will of Parliament – the very opposite of these claims – and a classic example was the Godmanchester case which we brought against the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2007.

Decisions by two judges in different cases in 1998 and 1999 had considerably weakened the law by which paths become public rights of way. We took the matter to the House of Lords (the equivalent of the Supreme Court at that time) where it was unanimously agreed that the law was being wrongly interpreted.

In the Godmanchester case there was no other way we could have rectified this undermining of the will of Parliament than by seeking a judicial review. The House of Lords even said that the wrong interpretation of the law went so far as to make nonsense of it. 

We’re defending the use of judicial review as a legitimate way to challenge unlawful decisions and we submitted a response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on the proposed changes to the law around this important legal process.

You can find out more about the consultation, which ran from 6 Sep 2013 to 1 Nov 2013, on the Ministry of Justice’s website.