Principles of Public Consultation in the UK

December 19th, 2016

A range of significant legislative changes in the UK have put public consultation in the limelight recently. UK high profile judicial reviews have demonstrated that projects could be successfully challenged for inadequate consultation and poor record keeping. Principles of public consultation in the UK have not necessarily changed, but are being noticed more in the limelight.

There is no one right way of undertaking good consultation; it has to be context-specific. However, regardless of what consultation process you are in, the basic principles essentially remain the same.

What are the principles of consultation in the UK you may ask. Let’s start with the Gunning Principles.

Prior to 1985 in the UK little consideration had been given to consultation but in a landmark case in that year (R v London Borough of Brent ex parte Gunning) Mr Stephen Sedley QC propounded a set of fundamental consultation principles that were adopted by the presiding judge. These Gunning (or Sedley) principles were confirmed as applicable to all public consultations by the Court of Appeal in 2001 (Coughlan case) and must underpin every public consultation that takes place in the UK.

The Gunning principles are that:

  • Consultation must take place when the proposal is still at a formative stage
  • Sufficient reasons must be put forward for the proposal to allow for intelligent consideration and response
  • Adequate time must be given for consideration and response
  • The product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account

These basic principles have passed the test of time and can be seen carried through into all current legislation and guidance such as the Planning Act 2008 and the Localism Act 2011. The principles have been cited time and again by those who have successfully overturned flawed consultations in the courts.

Successful consultation requires careful planning at the outset and continual assessment against pre-agreed benchmarks throughout the consultation process itself. Outcomes of the consultation need to be rigorously examined against strict criteria to ensure that all the specified intentions have been met and all the resultant responses considered.

Finally it is important to manage the information resulting from your consultation in an accurate and auditable way. In other words recording all stakeholder interactions and responses in a manner that not only allows them to be “conscientiously taken into account” but also allows you report that that is the case. Darzin is a specialised stakeholder management software tool which has been specifically designed to meet this requirement.