Public inquiries

Statutory provisions that authorise the holding of a public inquiry concerning a government decision generally give the relevant Minister the discretion whether or not to do so in any particular case. But in two recent legal decisions, the courts have shown themselves willing to review that discretion. Both cases raise the familiar but difficult question of determining the exact purpose of public inquiries.

R v Secretary of State for the Environment and another ex parte Binney and another (The Times, 8 October) concerned the proposal by the Department of Transport to construct a dual carriageway, part of which would run through Highclere park in Hampshire. The draft Order the scheme was duly published and some 70 written objections were sent in.

Normally a public inquiry would then be held, but Schedule 1 of the Highways Act 1980 provide

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