Notes from the field of public involvement

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Going nuclear about nuclear consultation?

We imagine you all saw the reports about the government's nuclear consultation.

Queen's Bench Division
Published February 20, 2007
Regina (Greenpeace Ltd) v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Before Mr Justice Sullivan
Judgement February 16, 2007

Where it had been stated in a government White Paper that there would be the fullest public consultation before making a decision on a matter of substantial public policy but information as to major relevant issues had emerged only after consultation had closed, then the decision-making process was fatally flawed.

Mr Justice Sullivan so held in the Queen's Bench Division in allowing the application of Greenpeace Ltd for judicial review by way of an order to quash the decision of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to announce government support for the building of new civil nuclear power generation facilities.

Times readers will also have seen Matthew Parris's article where he wrote

"Mr Justice Sullivan was wrong. Or rather that a court of law is no place for useful judgments about the genuineness or otherwise of a public consultation.

As a quasi-judicial concept, the whole idea of 'consultation' is broken-backed and should be discarded. Not that as human beings or human institutions we should cease to consult other interested parties about the things we propose - it is often sensible to do so. But we should remove the process from the pedestal it occupies in administrative law, abandon the attempt to decide what is or is not a 'proper' consultation, divest the word of its uniform, badge and little cap, and allow it to return naked to where it came from: a common English noun, occasionally useful, but interpretable in a wide variety of ways, its meaning fluid and dependent on circumstance."

Parris went on to offer a definition of consultation:

"Let me take a stab at a definition: an invitation to comment, backed by an implicit undertaking to consider (in good faith and with an open mind) such comments as are made, before any decision is made. This leaves the consultor free to weigh, consider, and after due consideration to reject, any or all of the public response."

What you do think, readers? 

Readers' Poll
The definition is

  1. Spot on
  2. Useful working hypothesis
  3. Too vague for practical purposes
  4. Misses the point entirely
  5. Don't care

Take our quick poll here (opens in new window)

Colin Adamson | (Problem occured connecting to database: The server requested authentication method unknown to the client