Private nuisance – Article 6 and the costs conundrum

400px-Ffos_Y_Fran_open_cast_mine,_Merthyr_TydfilCoventry v. Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13, 23 July 2014, read judgment and Austin v. Miller Argent [2014] EWCA Civ 1012, 21 July 2014 read judgment

Two important cases in the last few days showing how difficult it is to find a fair way to litigate private nuisance cases.  Most of these claims have a modest financial value, but may raise complex factual and expert issues, even before you get to the law. The first case I shall deal with, Coventry, shows the iniquities of the recently departed system. The second, Austin, the dangers of the new.

Coventry is the sequel to the speedway case about which I posted in March – here. The”relatively small”  local speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. More than half of this was no-win-no-fee uplift and insurance premium combined. Indeed, the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they have ordered a further hearing to decide whether such a costs bill was in breach of Article 6 of the ECHR.

Austin is a claim concerning noise and dust affecting the claimant’s house close to an open-cast mine on the edge of Merthyr Tydfil: see pic. Before I go further, I should say that I represented Mrs Austin at an earlier stage of these proceedings.

In the present hearing, she unsuccessfully sought an order limiting the costs which she might have to pay if she lost the litigation (a protective costs order or PCO).

So each case is about a costs burden, which is capable of causing injustice to one or other party.

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Family comes first (even if they’re in Poland)

Adoption blueP (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 888 – read judgment here.

1 Crown Office Row’s Martin Downs represented the parents in this appeal (not at first instance), but is not the author of this blog post.

In this successful appeal against care and placement orders in respect of a young infant with Polish parents, the Court of Appeal were sharply critical of comments made by the first instance judge which made it clear he had closed his mind at an early stage to the possibility of the baby being looked after by her grandparents in Poland. The Court held that both the judge and the local authority had failed to give sufficient weight to their positive obligation under Article 8 to consider ways of retaining a child within the family.

The parents in this case were Polish nationals who moved to England in 2011. Their daughter was born in September 2012. For the first five-and-a-half months of the little girl’s life, there were no concerns about the care she was receiving from her parents. However, in February 2013 she was taken to her local hospital in Warrington with a head injury which was found to be non-accidental and probably inflicted by the father. On discharge from hospital the baby was taken into foster care. Proceedings were instituted and after several hearings before HHJ Dodds concluded in December 2013 with an adoption placement.

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Another “Bedroom Tax” Challenge Fails

Bedroom taxRutherford and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWHC 1613 (Admin) – Read judgement here.

At the end of May, the High Court ruled that the reduction in Housing Benefit under Regulation B13 of Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations – commonly dubbed “the bedroom tax” - did not unlawfully discriminate against a family with a disabled child requiring an additional bedroom for overnight careers because the shortfall was covered by discretionary housing payments.

The case involved three Claimants: Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their 14-year-old grandson Warren. Warren suffers from a profound disability requiring 24-hour care from at least two people. Mr and Mrs Rutherford need the assistance of two paid careers for two nights a week. The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow rented from a housing association and specifically adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Mr and Mrs Rutherford sleep in one room, Warren in another, and a third room is used as a bedroom for overnight carers and to store medical equipment.

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Strasbourg acting as the EU Court’s enforcer

67Dhahbi v.Italy, ECtHR, 8 April 2014 – read judgment – in French only

A case to get the Sun leader writers confused, in that the Strasbourg Court was making sure that Italy did not get away with refusing to refer a case to the EU Courts. 

Mr Dhahbi lives in Italy.  He was of Tunisian origin, and was not at the time of this case an Italian citizen.  He applied for and was refused a household allowance on the sole ground of nationalityHe relied upon an entitlement to this allowance in an association agreement between the EU and Tunisia (known as the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement).  The Italian court refused his application to have the case determined by the CJEU in Luxembourg.

Strasbourg decided that there had been a violation of his fair trial rights under Article 6, and discrimination on grounds of status under Article 14, when read with Article 8.

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High Court rules dead partner’s sperm can be kept despite lack of written consent

Sperm, microscopicElizabeth Warren -v- Care Fertility (Northampton) Limited and Other [2014] EWHC 602 (Fam) – Read judgment / court summary 

The High Court has ruled in favour of a 28-year-old woman who wanted her late husband’s sperm to be retained even though the correct written consent was not in place. Mrs Justice Hogg (‘Hogg J’) ruled that Mrs Warren has a right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life) to decide to become a parent by her deceased husband.

Mr Brewer had put his sperm into storage in April 2005 in order to enable his wife, Elizabeth Warren, to conceive a child by him after his death. However, he was not advised by his Clinic as to the statutory steps he needed to take in order for his sperm to be stored for longer than 10 years. In the event, he sadly passed away shortly before the lawful expiry of his consent, leaving his widow insufficient time to decide whether she wished to conceive his child.

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Supreme Court brings private nuisance into the 21st century

270866141Coventry v. Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13, 26 February 2014, read judgment

The law of private nuisance is the way of balancing the rights of neighours, the right to be noisy or smelly, and to be free of noise or smells. Hitherto it is has been explicitly a private law remedy, and has slightly odd rules. But it has been struggling with public interests for some years; are they irrelevant, or can they carry the day for claimant or defendant in a private nuisance claim?

Fortunately, enough of the big issues bedevilling this area of the law came before the Supreme Court in one fell swoop. And they have led to an important re-balancing of the rules. In particular, public interest is relevant, but not at the first stage of deciding whether someone has a claim, but later – can they get an injunction to stop the noise or should they be confined to damages?

 And all this arose in the context of some speedway, stock car, banger and motocross racing in an otherwise fairly rural bit of Suffolk.

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Human rights and public law challenge to prisoner’s release conditions fails

Prisoners releaseR(Gul) v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWHC 373 (Admin) – read judgment

Mr Gul had been imprisoned for a period, on 24 February 2011, for disseminating terrorist publications. When he was released on 6 July 2012, this was under licence, as is common following the release of dangerous prisoners. Mr Gul challenged some of the conditions of his licence by judicial review. The court rejected his challenge.

The purposes of releasing offenders from prison on licence, allowing them liberty under conditions to be supervised by a probation officer, are clear enough – protecting the public, preventing reoffending, and securing the successful reintegration of the prisoner into the community, as set out in Section 250 (8) Criminal Justice Act 2003.

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