Government to Establish Dedicated Planning and Environment Division of the High Court
Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne has welcomed the government decision to establish a dedicated Planning and Environment division of the High Court.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee this week secured the agreement of Cabinet to advance work to establish the new division in partnership with the Courts Service and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
The Programme for Government and Housing for All plan commits to the establishment of a new Planning and Environmental Law Court, managed by judges with specialist training, as well as legislative changes in relation to Judicial Review on planning cases.
Noting the significance of this development, Minister Browne said, “I am pleased that Government has given the green light for the establishment of a dedicated Planning and Environment division of the High Court, meeting key commitments in the Programme for Government, Housing for All and also our own Justice Plan. This division will allow for greater efficiency and specialism in the handling of litigation relating to planning and environmental matters, particularly judicial reviews which are a frequent feature of Ireland’s planning and statutory consenting processes.”
“Dealing with such cases in an effective and efficient manner is key to enabling the State’s delivery of housing and infrastructure, while also protecting the environment. This division should reduce planning delays and so is a significant milestone in the context of the government’s wider Housing for All plan which will improve Ireland’s housing system and is aimed at ensuring every citizen in the State has access to good quality homes. The Environment and Planning Court is expected to operate largely online, which will be more efficient for all parties involved, particularly in reducing travelling time for regional legal practitioners.”
It is envisaged that the dedicated court will operate in a similar manner to the Commercial Court and that the Court will work in tandem with reforms to planning legislation, to bring about improvements in the ability to process cases and in costs, and to be consistent with Ireland’s obligations under EU environmental law.
In parallel, the Judicial Planning Working Group (JPWG), established by the Department of Justice in April 2021, is due to report later this year. The JPWG was set up in line with commitments in the Programme for Government and Justice Action Plan 2021 to “Establish a working group to consider the number of and type of judges required to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years”. Its recommendations will help inform any future judicial resourcing needs, including for the proposed new Planning and Environmental Law Court.
While primary legislation would be needed to allow for the appointment of additional judges, the actual establishment of the Court can be effected without the need for amending primary legislation. This work is expected be completed as soon as possible.