Public interest interventions

Where an application for judicial review is to be heard, it is sometimes perceived that the issues in it have a wider public importance. Under such circumstances, third parties such as NGOs, charities or statutory bodies may wish to intervene to bring further arguments of “public interest” to the attention of the court. The arguments made by the intervener may lend support to the submissions of one or other of the parties to the proceedings, or they may alternatively seek to highlight other points of law of more general relevance. In any event, interventions are taken to have the potential to enhance the judicial decision-making process by providing the Court with a much wider range of arguments on germane legal points. Courts must therefore decide how best to reconcile the benefits which may be derived from a third party, or “public interest”, intervention with the possible inconvenience, delay and expense that the intervention may cause to the existing parties.

Permission to intervene is a matter for the relevant court to grant, and there is no obligation on courts to grant permission (although some public bodies have a statutory power to intervene and it would therefore be unusual for permission to intervene to be refused). The leading case law on interventions suggests that they should in the first instance be limited to the presentation of written submissions as the Court can then consider the written submission and decide whether oral argument from the intervener is needed. The case law also makes clear that interventions – whether written or oral – should be strictly confined to matters that are directly relevant to the issues before the court. However, interventions that merely repeat the points being made one of the parties to proceedings are not encouraged (see In Re E (A Child) [2008] UKHL 66).

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