For many immigrants and homeless people with a grievance against a local authority the only course of action is to apply to the courts for leave to pursue a judicial review.
As the official mechanism through which the courts in this country exercise control over the activities of central and local government and other public bodies, it is often the only formal avenue of appeal available.
Yet studies by Maurice Sunkin, senior law lecturer at the University of Essex, and Lee Bridges, principal research fellow in the school of law at the University of Warwick, have shown that only 30 per cent of applications for judicial review reach a final hearing. The remainder are either refused preliminary leave by the court or are withdrawn after leave has been granted.
This statistic is particularly significant for immigration and homelessness cases, since these constitute a very high proportion of applications.
The research team, working with the Public Law Project which gathers information on judicial review, has now been awarded a Pounds 152,950 grant by the Economic and Social Research Council to investigate for the first time why so few judicial reviews reach a final hearing in court.
One theory is that local authorities tend not to take applications seriously until a judge has ruled there is an arguable case. Once that happens, they back down.
If the research finds this to be so, the implications could have an impact on the Law Commission's current consultation on proposals for a shake-up of judicial review procedures. There has been growing concern in recent years over an upsurge in the number of applications for judicial review and the potential burden this could place on the courts.
Mr Sunkin argues: "It may be that there should be new rules to force local authorities to review their decisions before it is necessary for someone to apply for judicial review. We believe if there was a proper appeals procedure many complaints would be resolved at a much earlier stage."
The research will employ a "case-tracking" methodology in which a sample of cases will be identified at the beginning of the process and then tracked continuously through to their conclusion.