A new division of the High Court is due to be established in early 2023 that will deal solely with planning and environmental issues. The new Court will be introduced as part of a major reform of planning laws being led by Attorney General Paul Gallagher.
In a letter to an Oireachtas committee in April 2022, the Minister for Housing disclosed that a proposed Bill to make it more difficult to take judicial review cases in the High Court was not now proceeding but would be subsumed into the wider review being conducted by the Attorney General.
The judicial review system has long been seen as a delay to planning in Ireland.
Planning decisions of Local Authorities and An Bord Pleanála are subject to judicial review, a procedure for challenging the legalities of the planning authority. The aim of the reform under Housing for All is “to primarily to ensure that appellants access the administrative system fully in advance of court processes, and that matters of substance are referred,” according to the plan.
Planning Minister Peter Burke set out the time scale, saying the number of judicial reviews granted in Ireland was “frightening” compared to other European countries.
By September a review of the planning laws and the current appeals mechanisms would be complete. It was intended to have a new planning and development act in place before the end of the year. A dedicated new environmental and planning court would then be set up next year.
Details of the new legislation have yet to be revealed, but a draft drawn up by Fine Gael in 2019 before the current Government was formed, sought to restrict access to the courts for objectors by applying strict criteria to who could seek judicial reviews and in what circumstances.
Mr Burke said however the approach of boosting planning authority staffing and resources should speed up procedures without recourse to emergency powers. “It’s so important that we have business leaders, business voices to the forefront,” he said.
He acknowledged that judicial reviews highlighted flaws in the law and said a lot of work was being done to consolidate the existing planning act which had been repeatedly added to in piecemeal fashion over the last 20 years.
He also said work was under way to ensure EU directives were properly transposed in Irish law. Failure by developers to comply with EU environmental laws have been a major cause of judicial reviews in recent years.
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