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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