The Legal Ombudsman: more than a paper tiger

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 11.54.03Layard Horsfall Ltd v The Legal Ombudsman [2013] EWHC 4137 (QB) - Read judgment

Adam Wagner represented the Legal Ombudsman in this case. He is not the writer of this post

Does the Legal Ombudsman have teeth? That was, in effect, the question before the High Court in Layard Horsfall, a judicial review brought by a former solicitor against a decision by the Ombudsman to reduce his fees following a complaint by one of his clients. The Court’s answer was a very clear yes. Where the Ombudsman has made her decision properly, taking relevant factors into account, it is likely to withstand judicial review challenge.

In this case, the solicitor in question, Mr Horsfall, had been convicted of a count of fraud following an investigation into his involvement in money laundering and had been imprisoned and struck off the roll of solicitors. His prison sentence served, he was now pursuing his former clients through the courts for unpaid invoices. He appeared on behalf of his firm with the court’s permission, arguing that the Ombudsman’s decision to reduce his fees from £5,000 including VAT to £1,500 plus VAT (in a case which had nothing to do with the money laundering allegations) was in excess of jurisdiction and was irrational.

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Justice Secretary wins and loses in discrimination challenge to post-prison facilities for women

Prisoners releaseGriffiths v Secretary of State for Justice (Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening) [2013] EHWC 4077 (Admin)  - read judgment.

Oliver Sanders of 1 Crown Office Row represented the Defendant in this case and Adam Wagner also acted for the Defendant prior to the substantive hearing. They are not the writers of this post.

Two female prisoners nearing the date on which they would be considered for release on licence, brought conjoined challenges against the Secretary of State for Justice in respect of the provision of ‘approved premises.’ The Claimants challenged the alleged continuing failure to make adequate provision for approved premises to accommodate women prisoners like them released on licence.

Mr Justice Cranston rejected the argument that the limited number of approved premises for women treated female prisoners released on licence into such premises less favourably than comparable men. He held that despite the likelihood of a greater geographic separation from their homes and families, the Secretary of State had not discriminated directly or indirectly against female prisoners. However, the Secretary of State had failed to fulfil his duty under the Equality Act 2010 to consider the impact of the limited provision of approved premises of women.

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What really goes on in the Supreme Court

9781849463836On 9 December 2013, Professor Paterson launched his new book, Final Judgment (Hart Publishing, absolutely no relation), via the Second annual Bailii lecture, Decision-making in the UK’s top court – read lecture here, order book here (£21.25, Amazon) or direct from the publishers at £20 here (reference ‘PATERSON’ to get the further discount)

The lecture summarises a wise, perceptive, and at times funny work of scholarship, and this post is an unashamed plea that you read the book as well as the lecture.

The book is based upon over 100 interviews with Law Lords, Justices and counsel. Paterson is particularly well-placed, having carried out a review in the 1970s with 15 then current or former Law Lords and 46 counsel. He has also looked at the judicial notebooks of two of the outstanding leaders of the judicial House of Lords, namely Lord Reid in the 1960s and 1970s, and Lord Bingham in the 2000s. These notebooks contain not only records of counsel’s arguments, but also details of what the Law Lords or Justices thought at the end of the “first conference” held immediately after the oral hearing. And the revelation was that in many important cases the judges’ view shifted between that conference and the ultimate decision, often with a critical impact on the outcome. One of the particular interests of the book is to follow through the big cases of the last years, and see how the judges ended up where they did.

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The Supreme Court on “prohibitively expensive” costs: Aarhus again

R (Edwards & Pallikaropoulos) v. Environment Agency et al, Supreme Court, 11 December 2013 read judgment

This is the last gasp in the saga on whether Mrs Pallikaropoulos should bear £25,000 of the costs of her unsuccessful 2008 appeal to the House of Lords. And the answer, after intervening trips to the Supreme Court in 2010 and to the CJEU in 2013, is a finding by the Supreme Court that she should bear those costs.

The judgment by Lord Carnwath (for the Court) is a helpful application of the somewhat opaque reasoning of the European Court on how to decide whether an environmental case is “prohibitively expensive” per Article 9(4) of the Aarhus Convention, and thus whether the court should protect the claimant against such liabilities. The judgment also considers the guidance given by A-G Kokott more recently in infraction proceedings against the UK for breaches of that provision: see my post.

But note that the dispute has been largely overtaken by recent rule changes, and so we should start with these before looking at the judgment.

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Gay discrimination and Christian belief: Analysis of Bull v. Hall in the Supreme Court

Peter-and-Hazel-Bull-007Bull v. Hall and Preddy [2013] UKSC 73 – read judgment here.

The recent confirmation by the Supreme Court that it was unlawful discrimination for Christian hotel owners to refuse a double-bedded room to a same-sex couple was of considerable interest as the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving religious belief and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (and the first such judgment involving the highest court in the land). We have already provided a summary of the facts and judgment here, and our post on the Court of Appeal ruling can be found here.

The case has been  portrayed in some media as a clash between gay rights and religious freedom, with gay rights winning – see e.g. the Daily Mail’s headline: B&B owners’ right to bar gay couple crushed by ‘need to fight discrimination’. This is despite the best efforts of Lady Hale, who gave the main speech, to emphasise at paragraph 34 that this decision did not amount to replacing legal oppression of one community (homosexual couples) with legal oppression of another (Christians and others who shared the appellants’ beliefs about marriage), because the law equally prohibits a hotel keeper from refusing a particular room to a couple because they are heterosexual or because they have certain religious beliefs. However, moving beyond this simplistic portrayal of the issue at stake, there are several interesting legal points in the decision, which may raise more questions than it answered.

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National Security trumps disclosure of Litvinenko secret documents, rules High Court

LitvinenkoSecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs v Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner North London [2013] EWHC 3724 (Admin) read judgment

1 Crown Office Row’s Neil Garnham QC and Neil Sheldon acted for the claimant in this case (the Secretary of State for the FCO). They had no involvement in the writing of this post.

The Foreign Secretary successfully appealed against an order for disclosure of secret documents to the Inquest for the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko

The Foreign Secretary  in February 2013  issued a certificate of Public Interest Immunity (PII), on the grounds of national security and/or international relations, to prevent the disclosure of a representative sample of Government documents  relating to the 2006 poisoning. In May 2013 the Coroner for the Litvinenko Inquest (Sir Robert Owen) partially rejected that certificate and ordered the disclosure of gists of material relating to some of the key issues surrounding the death(read ruling). In this judgement, a panel of three judges of the High Court unanimously quashed that ruling.

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CJEU sets itself against secret “nod and a wink” justice

Fulmen & Mahmoudian v. Council of the European Union,28 November 2013,  read judgment

I posted last year on a decision by the General Court in Luxembourg, in which Fulmen successfully challenged sanctions taken against it as part of EU policy to apply pressure on Iran to end nuclear proliferation.

 Fulmen was said to have supplied electrical equipment on the Qom/Fordoo nuclear site and Mr Mahmoudian was said to be a director of Fulmen. Hence all of their assets were frozen by the EU.

The CJEU has now roundly dismissed the appeal by the EU Council from the ruling of the General Court. The sanctions order has been annulled – over 3 years after it was made. The Council has been told that if it wants to uphold such orders, it must adduce evidence to the Court, however sensitive the subject matter, and even if not all of that evidence is passed on to those affected.

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Plebgate and costs budgets – The Sun off the hook for big bucks

Jackson_0_0Mitchell v. News Group Newspapers 27 November 2013, CA  read judgment

We all know the story about how Andrew Mitchell MP may, or may not, have tried to barge past policeman in Downing Street with the memorable phrase “you’re f…ing plebs”. Like a lot of good stories, it may not be true, and like a lot of good stories it was picked up by The Sun. So Mr Mitchell sues The Sun in libel on the basis that it is untrue.

But this decision of the Court of Appeal is all about the reforms initiated by the man to my left, Sir Rupert Jackson, also a judge in the CA, who has shaken up the whole system of legal costs in civil litigation. And one of the major steps he has taken is to compel litigants to say what they intend to spend on a case early on – the costs budget – so that the judges can make some assessment of whether the thing is to be run sensibly or extravagantly.

Cue the present argument, where our MP’s lawyers do not file their costs budget on time, which is 7 days before the relevant hearing. So the parties go before the court, and The Sun says – we did our bit on time but we only got their budget yesterday, and we are not ready. To cut a long story short, The Sun now stand to recover a budgeted figure of £589,555 if they win, but our hapless MP (or his lawyers) will only recover his court fees if he wins.

How so?

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Strasbourg: defaming the dead, football and historical revisionism

article-2127854-0039756A00000258-300_634x381Putistin v. Ukraine, ECtHR, 21 November 2013  read judgment

An extraordinary story, with a twist, and an interesting decision by the Strasbourg Court that lack of respect for the honour and dignity of a dead relative may give rise to a breach of Article 8 and its right to family life.

In 1942 various professional footballers who had previously played for FC Dynamo Kyiv but who were now working in a bakery, ran out in the strip of FC Start. Their opponents (Flakelf) were pilots from the German Luftwaffe, air defence soldiers and airport technicians.

 

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Islamic “marriage” ceremony at home declared invalid by Court of Protection

r-SHAM-MARRIAGE-COUPLE-large570A Local Authority v SY [2013] EWHC 3485 COP (12 November 2013] – read judgment

A judge in the Court of Protection has ruled that a man who had “exploited and took advantage” of a young woman for the purpose of seeking to bolster his immigration appeal had engaged in an invalid marriage ceremony. The man, said Keehan J, had

 “deliberately targeted” the respondent because of her learning difficulties and her vulnerability.

The courts would not tolerate such “gross exploitation.”

This was  an application by a local authority in the Court of Protection in respect of the capacity of the respondent, SY, to litigate and to make decisions in relation to her life. Continue reading

UK may need law against secret filming and photography after European Court ruling – James Michael

A-photographer-with-a-cam-006Söderman v. Sweden – (application no. 5786/08) - Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has decided that it is a violation of the right to privacy if a country does not have a law prohibiting surreptitious photography of people. The ruling has serious implications for paparazzi, and would have been useful to Princess Diana.  A ready-made bill exists in the form of a draft published by the Law Commission for England and Wales in 1981.

On 12 November the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Sweden’s lack of a legal ban on invading personal privacy by surreptitious photographs violated the right to privacy. The case involved a camera hidden in the bathroom by the stepfather of a fourteen-year old girl. (Söderman v. Sweden,application no. 5786/08).

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When is an advert “political” for the purposes of a ban under the Communications Act?

20090327_radio_microphone_18R (on the application of London Christian Radio Ltd & Christian Communications Partnerships) v Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (Respondent) & Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Interested Party) [2013] EWCA Civ 1495 – read judgment

The ban on Christian Radio’s proposed advert seeking data on the “marginalisation of Christians” in the workplace was lawful and did not constitute an interference with free speech, the Court of Appeal has ruled. When determining whether a radio or television advertisement was “political” fur the purposes of Section 321(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003 the court should consider the text objectively; the motives of the advertiser were irrelevant.

This was an appeal against a ruling by Silber J ([2013] EWHC 1043 (Admin)) that a proposed radio advertisement was directed towards a political end, and therefore fell foul of the prohibition on political advertising which meant that it could not be given clearance for broadcast (see my previous post on this decision). Continue reading

Hostility to the European Court and the risks of contagion – Philip Leach and Alice Donald

Contagion-007Updated | The relationship between the UK and the European Court remains turbulent and fractious. The Court has been the subject of significant criticism, notably from some politicians and commentators in the UK, relating to its supposed interference in domestic, sovereign questions and the quality of its judges.

Some commentators say that the UK may have to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the court. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky argues that if (as is highly likely) the Council of Europe refuses to institute a “democratic override” for states of European Court of Human Rights decisions, withdrawal should be seriously considered. MP Nick Herbert argues that the UK should withdraw immediately.

Others have proposed withdrawing from the European Convention altogether. For example, in April, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that temporary withdrawal from the Convention was one option being considered by the UK government in its efforts to deport the Islamic cleric Omar Mohammed Othman (also known as Abu Qatada). Two members of the Commission tasked with investigating the creation of a UK Bill of Rights advocated withdrawal from the Convention unless the Court ceased its ‘judicially activist approach’ (p. 182).

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Materiality in environmental judicial review

luftbild_web_klein_bGemeinde Altrip et al v. Land Rheinland-Pfalz, CJEU, 7 November 2013 – read judgment

When you challenge a decision in the courts on the basis that it was unlawful, you must show that the wrong is material. The other side may say that the wrong led to no difference in the decision; it would have inevitably have been the same even if the defendant had acted lawfully. The onus is on you the claimant, but it is not at the moment a high one. Only a possibility of a different outcome is enough to get you home and the decision quashed.

This materiality issue was one of the points in this challenge by local landowners to a flood retention scheme affecting some 320 ha of their land in the former Rhine flood plain. The scheme had undergone an environmental impact assessment which the locals said was defective. But did the locals have to show that correcting the defects might have made a difference to the ultimate decision? That was one of the questions which the German federal administrative court referred to the EU Court.

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Renewable energy ambitions of the Scottish Ministers “trounce the law of the land”

march-image350The sequel to this Scottish judicial review decision in Sustainable Shetland, (Lady Clark of Calton, read judgment, and my post) is another unedifying example of executive government ignoring courts when it suits them.

In this case, the judge (a former Law Officer in Scotland) quashed the grant of a wind farm consent, for two reasons, the relevant one being that the wind farmer could not apply for the consent anyway because it had not got the requisite licence which was a pre-condition for such an application. Readers will recall that Scottish Ministers had also resisted the highly controversial planning appeal being heard at public inquiry – or the Scottish equivalent.

If you are an ordinary citizen, and you get an adverse judgment, you can only do one thing – appeal it and wait for the decision on appeal. The Scottish Ministers plainly do not like the decision. They have sought to reverse it by a legislative amendment, which did not find favour in the House of Lords. But, rather less attractively, they are simply ignoring the decision pending that appeal on the basis that it is wrong. Judges, rather than ministers, might be thought to be a reasonable judge of that. But the Scottish Ministers think not.

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