Students Staff

23 October 2015

Report challenges Government criticism of judicial review

A major study of judicial review 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.

Professor Maurice Sunkin

Professor Maurice Sunkin

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the study has been 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 clearly 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.”

He added: “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 judgements. 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.

Read the report for all the findings.

More information

1. For further information, to set up an interview or receive a picture of Professor Sunkin, please contact the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or email:

2. The research team compiled a complete data set of all judicial reviews that had a final hearing over a 20 month period between July 2010 and February 2012. They also surveyed claimant solicitors covering 198 of these cases, defendant solicitors on 54 cases, and conducted in-depth interviews with other claimant and defendant solicitors and key informants with expert knowledge of judicial review.

3. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. More information is available at

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