Most people are affected by public law decisions at some time in their lives. For example:

  • if you have ever claimed benefits
  • if you have applied for planning permission
  • if the state school you or your children attend has been closed
  • if you have tendered to get a government contract
  • If the Government has made a decision about your immigration status

 In all of these examples, you are likely to have been affected by a public law decision.

Public law can allow you to contribute to a public body’s decision-making process, and you may be able to use public law to challenge a decision when it has been made. It can also allow you to challenge a public body’s failure to make a decision. The main ways in which public law can help you are explained below.  It may be that you decide that you are able to engage with one of the public law processes or remedies (that is, a way that allows you to be part of the decision making process) below, but it is important that you seek consider carefully whether you need advice, especially legal advice, before doing so.  For instance, many complaints can be undertaken by individuals without the immediate need of assistance, but a legal process like judicial review will need expert legal advice.  We provide a regularly updated list of organisations able to assist with advice of all kinds related to public law Signpost.  We also advise you read our guides to public law.

Sometimes a public body will ask for the views of people who will be affected by a proposal before they make a decision about what to do. This is called a consultation. If a public body consults on a proposal, it has to take the views of the people who responded into account when taking their final decision. You can read more about consultations below.

Many public bodies have complaints procedures you can follow, or there could be an ombudsman scheme you can complain to. You will be expected to use complaints procedures or ombudsman schemes if they could effectively resolve the problem. Legal aid may be available to get advice on making a complaint. You can read more about complaints procedures and ombudsman schemes below, and in our guide [link].

There is a right of appeal against some decisions made by public bodies.  Appeals will often take place in a Tribunal. Appeals can generally look at whether the decision was in accordance with the law, and make findings of fact.

If there is a right of appeal, you will usually have to follow the appeal procedure rather than bring a judicial review. Legal aid may be available to get advice and representation for an appeal. You can read more about appeals below, and about appeals in social security cases in our guide [link].

If there is no right of appeal, no complaints procedure or ombudsman scheme, or if those things would not properly address the problem, you may be able to challenge a public body’s decision by judicial review. Judicial review generally looks at whether or not a public body has done things in the right way. It is difficult to bring a judicial review without advice from a specialist lawyer. Legal aid may be available to get advice and representation for a judicial review case. You can read more about judicial review below, and in our guide [link].

As well as these general principles, certain failings are called ‘maladministration’, which can be investigated by ombudsmen. Some examples of maladministration:

  • delay or not doing things
  • doing things wrong
  • not providing information
  • not keeping adequate records
  • not taking relevant things into account
  • failure to investigate
  • failure to deal with enquiries
  • failure to comply with legal requirements
  • making misleading or inaccurate

All of the information on this page is available in our Short guide to public law available in our guides to public law section.