What is a “public authority” for the purposes of environmental information?

water_tapFish Legal v The Information Commissioner, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and Southern Water (Case C-279/12) – read Opinion of AG Cruz Villalon

In this most recent case concerning access by private individuals to environmental information held by public authorities,  the AG grasps the nettlish question of what precisely a public authority is. The issue was a subject of debate because the request for information had  been addressed to private companies which manage a public service relating to the environment.  The question therefore was whether, even though the companies concerned are private, they may be regarded as “public authorities” for the purposes of the Directive governing access to environmental information (Directive 2003/4).

Clearly the definition of the concept of “public authority” is an issue of importance not just in relation to access to information, but across the board, whether involving EU law or the application of the Human Rights Act 1998 and judicial review in domestic law. Continue reading

Expecting business to respect human rights without incentives or Sanctions – Robert McCorquodale

William HagueCross-government coordination on an issue that affects trade, international development, foreign affairs, business activity and human rights is remarkable, especially at such a difficult economic time. So the UK’s Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which is the government’s long-awaited strategy for implementing the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, is to be applauded for this achievement. Yet, while the Plan establishes clear expectations that UK companies should respect human rights, there are no effective legal requirements placed on them to do so.

In issuing this Plan, the Foreign Secretary and the Business Secretary reinforce the business case for respecting human rights, which includes reputational, legal and investment risk issues, and consumer expectation reasons. They also note that protection of human rights is good for business and communities, as “the thread of safeguards running through society that are good for human rights – democratic freedoms, good governance, the rule of law, property rights, civil society – also create fertile conditions for private sector led growth”. Adam Smith thought that this was required over two and a half centuries ago.

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European Commission fines and their compliance with Article 6

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C-501/11P Schindler v. European Commission, CJEU, 18 July 2013 – read judgment

Two things of general interest to the human rights lawyer in this unsuccessful attempt by Schindler to challenge a fine of a mere €143 million for anti-competitive behaviour before the EU’s top court.

The first is that the Commission’s role as investigator, prosecutor and enforcer was not found to be in breach of Article 6(1) – because its decisions were subject to “full review” by the EU judges. The second is the remark in the CJEU’s judgment that the EU status of Article 6 ECHR will change when the EU accedes to the ECHR – I shall look at whether this change will be formal or substantive, given the presence of an equivalent right in the EU Charter, within Article 47.

Like a lot of decisions involving issues of high principle, the underlying facts do not reflect well on the offending company, in this case Schindler. It, with three other companies (Kone, Otis and ThyssenKrupp), stitched up the lift and escalator markets in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Somebody tipped off the Commission, who conducted a massive investigation, and fined all these companies. As is standard, the process of investigation did not involve any oral hearing, with some limitations on the access by the accused companies to all the material which the Commission received.

As my image shows, cartel fines by the Commission involve big big money, and I dare say they dwarf any fines levied by member states on “true” criminals.

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Rihanna wins against Topshop but does she have a right to her image? – Emily Goodhand

Rihanna--010Fenty & Ors v Arcadia Group Brands Ltd (t/a Topshop) & Anor [2013] EWHC 2310 (Ch) – Read judgment

The ruling in the Rihanna/Topshop case marks a significant trend, both in case law and society, towards equating image with commodity. Increasingly, celebrities and sports personalities earn large sums of money from sponsorship and advertising deals because companies recognise that their image sells products. So how can so-called image rights be protected?

The legal regime around image rights has arisen out of common law concepts of property, trespass and tort (civil wrong). The common law system means that precedents for the protection of an individual’s likeness have arisen from judges’ decisions in cases involving unauthorised exploitation of a likeness where an individual has suffered damage as a result. Some US states have enacted specific legislation equating celebrities’ personality rights with property rights, where expiration of the rights occurs 70 years following the death of the celebrity.

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Keep it short, judges: no need to churn to earn

zq5cNeumanns v. Adronikou [2013] EWCA (Civ) 916, 24 July 2013  read judgment

This time of year, high court and appellate judges will have been trying to clear their desks – to stop the complex half-finished judgment from skulking around in their minds and spoiling their holidays.

So they must relish this advice from Mummery LJ, a long-standing member of the Court of Appeal, about brevity – in particular, what to do when the CA is dismissing an appeal from an immaculate judgement below: 

What sensible purpose could be served by this court repeating in its judgments detailed discussions of every point raised in the grounds of appeal and the skeleton arguments when they have already been dealt with correctly and in detail in the judgment under appeal? No purpose at all, in my view.

Quite so.

But Mummery LJ did a little more than this in an attempt to stifle down at least some of the words pouring out from the courts, as we shall see.

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A historic leap forward for equal pay claimants?

Money purse - WalletDumfries and Galloway -v- North [2013] UKSC 45 - Read judgment

Yesterday’s much heralded equal pay ‘victory’ in the Supreme Court (see BBC Report) undoubtedly will be good news for the specific female claimants in the case who seek to vindicate their European Union rights to equal pay.

The female claimants do so by comparing their pay with male colleagues working in entirely distinct parts of the same local authority (being Dumfries and Galloway Council) but arguably on common terms and conditions of employment (often referred to as the ‘same employment’ test).

However, in legal terms, arguably the unanimous Judgment delivered by Lady Hale in the Supreme Court is not quite so revolutionary. Many practitioners, outside Scotland at least, had anticipated its outcome.

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An ABC on proportionality – with Bank Mellat as our primer

seo-marketing-320x200Bank Mellat v HM Treasury [2013] UKSC 39 (see judgment)

My post of earlier this week explained why the majority of the Supreme Court struck down a direction telling all financial institutions not to deal with this Iranian Bank. The legal ground (involving, as Lord Sumption described it, “an exacting analysis of the factual evidence in defence of the measure” [20]) was that the direction was “disproportionate”. The judgments (particularly the dissenting one of Lord Reed) tell us a lot about the scope of proportionality. And there is a good deal more to it than there might at first sight appear.

So it may be worth doing a bit of a bluffers guide, hand in hand with Lord Reed.

The concept arises in human rights law and in EU law. Its ECHR and EU incarnations derive from German administrative law, but its development in English law shows strong common-law influences. It applies in many different contexts, and the intensity of the review required critically depends on that context as well as the right being interfered with. So it is no simple thing to explain, but Lord Reed at [68] – [76] distils the main elements.

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Unison to Judicially Review ‘Brutal’ Employment Tribunal Fees – Lauren Godfrey

unison-logo-1News that Unison has applied for Judicial Review of the Government’s controversial plans to introduce fees in the Employment Tribunal has gone viral in the Labour Law community.  A key theme in the application is access to justice for working people, particularly women.

Unison has described the proposed fees of up to£1000 for individuals to bring a claim and have that claim determined in the Employment Tribunals as ”brutal”.

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Judicial Review almost never possible where there is a statutory right of appeal

The Financial Conduct AuthorityR(on the application of Christopher Wilford) v The Financial Services Authority [2013] EWCA Civ 677 – Read judgment

This Court of Appeal judgment further reduces the scope for judicial review of a Decision Notice issued by the Financial Services Authority (“the FSA”, now the Financial Conduct Authority). Indeed it comes close to excluding judicial review of these Notices. This is because there is a statutory mechanism for challenging Decision Notices. This case sheds light on the very limited role of judicial review where there is such a statutory right.

The FSA regulates the financial services industry. Its Regulatory Decisions Committee (“the RDC”) decides whether or not a regulated person has breached the relevant rules and issues Decision Notices.

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Supreme Court – Measures against Iranian bank unlawful, and the secret hearing ruling

mellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2013] UKSC 38 (CMP: see judgment) and 39 (main: see judgment)

Two sets of judgments today from a 9-judge Supreme Court in the Bank Mellat case. The first explains why the Court adopted a secret procedure in the absence of the Bank (i.e. a Closed Material Procedure) but added that the whole palaver in fact added nothing to their knowledge. The second concludes that financial restrictions imposed in 2009 on an Iranian Bank which effectively excluded it from the UK financial market were arbitrary and irrational and were also procedurally unfair. 

The saga started when on 9 October 2009 the Treasury made a direction under Schedule 7 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 requiring all persons operating in the financial sector not to have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat. The Treasury said that the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. Continue reading

Electronic plagiarism? The dangers of the cut-and-paste

CutandPasteCrinion v. IG Markets [2013] EWCA (Civ) 587  read judgment

and R (o.t.a. Mustafa) v. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator, Queen Mary College Interested Party [2013] EWHC 1379 (Admin) read judgment

A judge hears a case and accepts one party’s version. That party provides a convincing closing speech (in a Word document) which the judge lifts, makes some modifications, and circulates as his judgment. 

What is wrong with that? Put it another way, does the judge have to re-invent the wheel by paraphrasing the arguments of the parties?

What is wrong is the appearance that the judge has not really engaged with the arguments of the losing party – as the Court of Appeal emphatically pointed out in their judgment.

My second case reminds us what happens when students do this.

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UK Uncut loses: Taxman’s Goldman Sachs deal “not a glorious episode”, but lawful

281851582_781339792001_110208UKUncut-4336146UK Uncut Legal Action Ltd v. (1) Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and (2) Goldman Sachs – read judgment

Tax avoidance has hit the news again, with Apple currently facing questions from the US Senate about its exploitation of Irish company law loopholes and David Cameron writing to offshore tax havens to push for more transparency over tax rules. As it happens, the High Court has just handed down a ruling in a case which raises many of the same issues.

The campaign group UK Uncut brought a judicial review claim against HMRC. They argued that it was unlawful for HMRC to reach a confidential settlement in 2010 with the investment bank Goldman Sachs over a multi-million pound unpaid tax bill arising out of a failed tax avoidance scheme. Mr Justice Nicol held that HMRC’s decision was not unlawful, but criticised the actions of HMRC officials and HMRC have acknowledged that the manner in which the settlement was agreed involved several mistakes.

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Successful A1PI claim in construction adjudication – lessons for us all

showImage.php_Whyte and Mackay Ltd v. Blyth & Blyth Consulting Engineers Ltd, Outer House, Court of Session, Lord Malcolm, 9 April 2013 read judgment

One to read if you have any interest in summary justice in civil litigation – not simply for those who can tell their rebar from their roof tile.

The first instance Scottish judge refused to order enforcement of a £3m adjudication – a form of interim justice -in complex professional negligence proceedings, because to do so would have involved a violation of A1P1 – the right to property. But he ruled against a similar submission based on Article 6 – the right to a fair trial.

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Victory to the (Pharmacy) Workers!

Boots the ChemistPharmacists Defence Association Union v Boots Management Services Ltd – Read judgment

The consequences of the change of approach of the European Court of Human Rights in the Article 11 case of Demir has definitely washed up on the shores of the UK

In a recent decision of the Central Arbitration Committee presided over by Mary Stacey, it was decided that it was necessary to amend the wording of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (Sched 1A para 35) to make it compliant with Article 11 of the ECHR and the decision of the Strasbourg Court in Demir and Baykara v Turkey.

The decision of the CAC is a report from the front line of the battle between independent unions and employers about granting the former recognition.

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Another Iranian bank released by the EU – Wikileaks here as well

Bank_SaderatBank Saderat Iran v Council of the European Union, EU General Court, 5 February 2013 read judgement

Last week I posted on the Bank Mellat case where an Iranian Bank succeeded in persuading the General Court to unfreeze its assets from orders made by EU institutions. The Bank Saderat case is virtually identical, and annulment was duly granted by the General Court. But it is troubling that the EU Council should go so wrong in wielding its draconian powers more than once. It does rather support the suspicions of the Bank (common to this and the Bank Mellat case) that pressure was brought to bear on the Council ultimately emanating from the US – hence the Wikileaks cables again – such that the EU did not robustly analyse the assertions made to them before making the orders. Basic errors were made again, and, as will emerge, the EU had no evidence for much of what it said.

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