Representing yourself in a planning appeal?

Posted: 20th February 2019

RCJ (5)The legal system is replete with strict time limits which add to the hazards faced by those who choose to represent themselves. A landowner found that out to his cost after a series of unfortunate events had the disastrous consequence of him lodging a planning appeal too late.

The landowner had appealed to a planning inspector after his local authority failed to determine his application to alter and extend certain buildings. The inspector rejected his appeal and, by operation of Section 288(4B) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the landowner had six weeks to lodge an appeal against that decision to the High Court.

He intended to travel to London on the final day of the six-week period but missed his train. He emailed a representative in London and asked him to lodge the papers. The latter said that he attended the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) at 4:25pm – five minutes before the building was due to close for the day – but security staff refused to allow him entry.

The landowner went to the RCJ himself the following day at 3:25pm, but did not reach the front of the court office queue until 5:00pm. He was informed that he had used the wrong form and would have to fill in the correct one before his application would be accepted.

The Easter holidays intervened thereafter and he was only finally able to lodge his application six days after expiry of the deadline. In those circumstances, his application for permission to appeal was subsequently struck out by a judge on the basis that it had been made out of time and that there was thus no jurisdiction to consider the matter.

In dismissing the landowner’s challenge to that outcome, the Court of Appeal noted that litigants whose claims are subject to time limits must make arrangements to ensure that they attend the court office in good time so they are not thwarted by unexpected problems.

The language of the Act was precise, unambiguous and unqualified and it was clear that Parliament’s intention was thereby to avoid the uncertainty and inconsistency likely to arise if the time for lodging a planning appeal could be extended as a matter of judicial discretion. The landowner bore some responsibility for failing to meet the deadline and the Court rejected his plea that the mandatory nature of the time limit was incompatible with his right to a fair hearing, enshrined within Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.