PM to crack down on 'time-wasting' appeals

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Media caption,

David Cameron: "If Christopher Columbus had an advisory committee he would probably still be stuck in the dock"

David Cameron has promised to crack down on "time-wasting" caused by the "massive growth industry" in legal challenges to government policy.

The prime minister told business leaders he would "get a grip" on people forcing unnecessary delays.

Judicial review applications would cost more, with less time put aside to apply and fewer chances to appeal.

But green groups said planning laws protected the environment and should not be blamed for economic failings.

On Twitter, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith criticised Mr Cameron, writing: "So the same PM whose dithering on airports will cost 3-6 years is now enraged by the delays affecting big infrastructure decisions?"

He added that there was a "gap between what the PM says and what the PM does".

In his speech to the CBI conference in London, Mr Cameron said the government had been "too slow" at cutting the deficit.

'Hopeless causes'

He pledged to end "equality impact assessments", which need to be carried out when new policy or legislation is introduced. He insisted that "bureaucratic nonsense" was not necessary to ensuring the rights of different sexes, races and religions were upheld.

Individuals and organisations can seek a judicial review if they think a decision by a public body has been made unlawfully.

The review, carried out by a judge, looks only at the way the decision was reached - rather than whether it was correct or not.

A recent example was Virgin's successful challenge against the awarding of the West Coast Mainline rail franchise to First Group. It was found there had been "significant flaws" in decision-making.

Downing Street figures show more than 11,000 applications for judicial review were made in 2011, compared with just 160 in 1975.

BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman said the majority of these had related to asylum cases, which was where the "real growth" had taken place.

But, in his address to the CBI, the prime minister said the increase in unnecessary applications had been too great: "We urgently need to get a grip on this. So here's what we're going to do: reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews - so people think twice about time-wasting."

It is unclear yet how much the fees would rise by for review applications or by how much the three-month time limit for applications might be cut.

But Mr Cameron said that "instead of giving hopeless cases up to four bites of the cherry to appeal a decision, we will halve that to two".

Downing Street refused to identify any infrastructure projects which had been delayed by judicial review, saying it was "not going into specific examples".

Mr Cameron also argued for less Whitehall bureaucracy and greater emphasis on the pursuit of economic growth.

He argued that government was "too slow in getting stuff done" and that civil servants must appreciate delays were felt in "businesses going bust, jobs being lost" and "livelihoods being destroyed".

Mr Cameron drew a historical analogy, saying: "When this country was at war in the '40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution.

"Normal rules were circumvented. Convention was thrown out. As one historian put it, everything was thrown at 'the overriding purpose' of beating Hitler.

"Well, this country is in the economic equivalent of war today - and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every 't' and dotting every 'i' - and we need to throw everything we've got at winning in this global race."

For Labour, shadow local government minister Jack Dromey told BBC Two's Daily Politics: "This is the same prime minister who kicked into the long grass a decision on airports for at least three years.

"He is presiding over a shambles in government, where it can't make its mind up on an urgent policy."

And Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins said the planning system played "an important role in protecting our green and pleasant land".

He added: "It mustn't become a scapegoat for the government's economic failings.

"EU rules protect peoples' legal right to defend their environment - any moves to prevent this may well be unlawful. Protecting the environment and boosting the economy are two sides of the same coin."

Joe Rukin, co-ordinator of the Stop HS2 campaign against plans to build the High Speed 2, rail link: "The government seem to be making out that they believe any of their infrastructure plans should be above the law and do not realise that it is essential in a democratic society to be able to hold the government to account."