Inquiry hearings, when requested, are usually conducted by the Inspector in Government Office and all parties have the opportunity to state their case, call any witnesses, and question any evidence produced by others.
Interested parties are normally given at least 21 days notice of the date and time of the hearing. The Planning Committee will be represented at hearings, usually by a Planning Officer. All other parties should nevertheless arrange to present their own case, either personally or by a representative.
It should be noted that hearings are not formal legal proceedings and where parties engage legal representation, such individuals cannot act in a legal capacity. In addition the costs of interested parties in Planning Appeals, including any representation, must be borne by the individual parties concerned. The Inspector will open the hearing by explaining what the appeal is about.
The Inspector may give a summary of the Appellant and Planning Committee's cases, and say which topics will be discussed. In most cases the Appellant will be asked to present their case, followed by any other parties present who support the Appellant's case.
Then, the Planning Committee's representative will be called to present their case, followed by any other parties who support the decision taken. Following the presentation of evidence, that evidence will be open to questions from those on the opposing side of the case together with questions from the Inspector.
Although hearings are usually informal, they must be orderly if everyone involved is to have a fair hearing. The key point to remember is that the format of the hearing is for the Inspector to determine, although he/she is required to properly explain the format at the outset.
Following the hearing, or consideration of the case under the Written Procedure, the Inspector will consider all the evidence, and submit a report (with recommendations) to the Minister for the Department of Infrastructure.
The Minister will then determine the appeal. The Minister's decision and the Inspector's report will be copied to all parties. If the decision varies from the Inspector's recommendation, the Minister will explain the reasoning for this.
There is no right of appeal against the Minister's decision, although it is always open to any party to seek a judicial review, through a Petition of Doleance to the High Court. Such a judicial review should only be progressed where it is believed there has been a misdirection or legal complication either during or after the appeal or its conclusion, or in relation to the decision of the Minister.