The Administrative Court is part of the Queen’s Bench Division.
The work of the Administrative Court comprises the administrative law jurisdiction of England and Wales. Its varied work is directed at the lawfulness of the acts and omissions of central and local Government, regulatory and disciplinary bodies, inferior courts and tribunals, and other public bodies and officials exercising public functions. The Administrative Court has both a civil and criminal jurisdiction.
This supervisory jurisdiction is exercised in the main through the procedure of Judicial Review (JR) – a wide and still growing field. Judicial Review proceedings have to be brought within strict time limits and require the permission of the Court, obtained on paper or on oral application, on the basis that the case is reasonably arguable. Judicial Review is used to challenge the lawfulness of the decision, including the procedures whereby it was reached, rather than the substantive merits. The grounds on which applications for Judicial Review and most statutory appeals and applications are brought are that the decision was outside the powers of the relevant statute or body, that its discretion was unreasonably or unlawfully exercised and that the procedures adopted were unfair or that the outcome was a breach of human rights. The notes to Civil Procedure Rule 54 (external link, opens in a new tab) provide a useful summary and source reference.
Not all judicial review proceedings are dealt with by the Administrative Court. The Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), usually referred to as UTIAC, has Judicial Review powers in relation to most immigration decisions and since November 2013 deals with the vast majority of such cases.
The jurisdiction may also be exercised pursuant to specific statutes providing for applications and appeals on points of law from the decisions of tribunals and disciplinary bodies and other decision makers. These will include for example appeals and applications in respect of planning decisions taken by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government or an Inspector appointed by him under the Town and Country Planning Acts.
The Planning Court is a specialist list within the Administrative Court in which nominated High Court Judges hear significant and other planning cases according to specific procedural and timetabling arrangements.
Criminal cases may arise in respect of the decisions of magistrates’ courts or of crown courts when acting in their appellate capacity. These may be brought either by way of judicial review or by way of appeals by way of case stated, depending on the issue. The Administrative Court will also hear issues arising out of confiscation and restraint proceedings and challenges to the lawfulness of search warrants. Extradition appeals from the decisions of District Judges are also brought in the Administrative Court. Its jurisdictions include applications for Habeas Corpus, for committal for contempt, for orders that an individual be a vexatious litigant under s.42 of the Senior Courts Act 1981, applications under the Coroners Act 1988, applications relating to elections under the Representation of the People Act, and proceedings in relation to Terrorism Prevention Investigation Measures put in place by the Home Secretary in relation to those believed to have been involved in terrorist related activities.
Some of the cases in the Administrative Court will be heard by a Divisional Court which is a court consisting of two or more judges. These will usually be in criminal cases including a number of the more difficult extradition cases. Most of the 71 High Court judges assigned to the Queen’s Bench Division regularly sit in the Administrative Court as do some judges in the Chancery and Family Division.
A Queen’s Bench judge is on duty 24 hours a day every day to hear applications for judicial review which cannot be delayed until normal hours of business. The Administrative Court work is organised so that urgent applications can be dealt with during the day time by a judge of the Administrative Court. The out of hours work is an exceptional process only to be invoked if the application could not have been made during normal hours despite the best endeavours of the parties and lawyers. They need to explain to the court why the application has to be heard before the next court day and could not be heard during normal court hours. Such late applications are rarely justified. The claimant must provide full disclosure to the court of everything relevant even though it may harm his or her case.
Although the Administrative Court deals with the majority of its work at the Royal Courts of Justice in London there are also regional centres in Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. (The Administrative Court does not have facilities for the lodging of papers at Bristol.) Collectively these regional offices account for just over 20 per cent of the overall work of the Administrative Court. Cases of real importance, often where the issue is of particular interest locally, are routinely heard in the courts outside London, ensuring litigants, public authorities and the wider community are able to see these matters being decided within their local area.
The Administrative Court is led by the ‘Judge in Charge’, a High Court Judge with very significant experience, who reports to the President of the Queen’s Bench Division. The Administrative Court has, since October 2012, also been supported by a dedicated Master who supports the leadership of the lawyers employed by the court who through powers conferred by the Civil Procedure Rules have been able to relieve the judges of many minor tasks through the delegation of judicial powers.