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Critically examine and assess the importance in the development of judicial review of the case of:-

Regina v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs ex parte World Development Movement Limited [1995] 1 W.L.R. 386

(referred to herein as “the WDM case”)

The Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 was enacted to provide assistance to developing countries, including valuable know-how and skills which they would not otherwise have had, as well as assistance with economic and social development[1]. In 1988, a British Consortium sought aid under Section 1 of the Act for a project to construct a power station on the Pergau River. A formal application was made by them to the Overseas Development Mission (“ODA”) indicating costs of £315 million for the project, this figure being subsequently revised to £316m in their contract proposal. Following an investigation by the ODA, the UK Government orally offered support up to £68.25m; but the ODA reported that at the Consortium’s quoted price of £316m, the economic viability of the project was “marginal”. Their quote was further revised to £397m at a later stage, and the ODA then classified the project as “no longer marginal but clearly uneconomic”.

Despite this, in April 1989 the UK Government submitted a formal written notice of offer based on £316m with an indication of willingness to discuss the possibility of further assistance. The ODA carried out a subsequent investigation and reported that at £397m, the project would be a “very bad buy” and a “burden on Malaysian consumers” — continuing with the project would be, according to them, “an abuse of the aid programme”. Regardless of this, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, concerned that a withdrawal of the offer already made would adversely affect the United Kingdom’s credibility, approved support for the project and agreements were signed by the Countries to this effect.

The applicants, World Development Movement Limited (“WDM”) who were a limited company acting as a pressure group dedicated to improving the quantity and quality of British aid to other countries, sought an assurance from the Secretary of State that no further funds for the project would be paid out, but this was refused. They therefore sought judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision to grant funding and to refuse to withhold further payments.

Under the Civil Procedure Rules, a claim for judicial review will only be admissible if permission (leave) for judicial review is obtained from the High Court. Permission may be refused if one of the following conditions is not satisfied:

  1. The application must be made promptly and in any event within three months from the date when the grievance arose[2];
  2. The applicant must have sufficient interest in a matter to which the application relates[3]. This requirement is known as the requirement of standing; and
  3. The application must be concerned with a public law matter, i.e. some rule of public law, not purely tort or contract.

Where one of these conditions is in doubt, the Court may not automatically refuse permission for judicial review. It may, in its discretion, to examine all the circumstances of the case and see if the substantive grounds for judicial review are serious e