Judicial review is a type of legal action under which decisions of ministers and other public officials can be challenged. It is the means by which the judiciary ensures that public bodies keep within the law. As such, it is a vital tool in a democracy and there have been many famous cases, including recently the successful challenge to the Government’s attempt to circumvent Parliament over the Brexit Article 50 process. ‘Decision’ is interpreted broadly, such that (for example) a failure to make a decision can be challenged, as can secondary legislation falling outside the ambit of an Act of Parliament.
Note that judicial review can only be used where there is said to be an error of law. You cannot normally challenge a finding of fact or the way a public body has exercised a discretion or judgement entrusted to it by Parliament. However, you can do so if the finding of fact etc is unsupported by evidence or the public body has failed to take into account a material consideration (or taken into account an immaterial consideration). Procedural irregularity can also be challenged, such as a failure to consult properly or give adequate reasons.
Animal protection organisations with expertise in a relevant area will usually be accorded standing to bring a case and they may also be allowed to intervene in a case brought by someone else. In these ways, the animals’ voice can be heard. There are strict time limits for bringing a case.
Legal costs can be an issue. However, in a public interest case it is often possible to get a protective costs order, which limits exposure to costs if a case is ultimately unsuccessful.
Often with judicial review, a successful outcome can be achieved without needing to take a case to a full hearing. Public bodies will frequently concede a point of principle if a case is well-articulated, especially if a judge grants permission for a case to proceed (the first stage in the process). Indeed, they may do so after a pre-action letter. Because public bodies have a duty to be candid, the letter before action can be an useful way of obtaining documents.
There is a similar process available to challenge planning decisions.
Other countries have similar mechanisms for challenging administrative decisions, some modelled on English judicial review.
We have extensive experience of bringing judicial reviews on behalf of animal protection organisations as well as other NGOs.