Gemeinde 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.
The Daily Mail has belatedly “corrected” its front page story on human rights damages, over a month after it appeared on 7 October 2013. Early last month I blogged on the original bogus article, which was so poor it generated a response from the ordinarily placid Council of Europe.
I have quote-pincered “corrected” as despite the newspaper’s actions, the damage is already done. A month has passed, which in social media time might as well be million years. People have moved on. Another human rights myth is implanted in the collective consciousness, and no sad little correction is going to dislodge a front page headline.
And to make things worse, the story was amplified by a whole host of other newspapers which picked it up without bothering to check the facts, including the Telegraph (corrected) and Daily Star (as yet uncorrected).
What really rankles about this story is how wrong it was.
The 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.
The Ministry of Justice is calling for evidence on the Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union, specifically relating to fundamental rights. The consultation document is here and main website here.
The deadline for responses is 13 January 2014, but if you want to take part in one of the four discussion groups (three in London, one in Edinburgh), you need to email by tomorrow – all details below.
And don’t let the obscure-sounding title put you off. This review is potentially very important. Just look how broad question 1 is: Continue reading
Sustainable Shetland, Re Judicial Review, 24 September 2013, Lady Clark of Calton read judgment
The current storms brought down a turbine in Teignmouth: see here for good pics of this and other mayhem. And the rule of law recently brought down a massive wind farm proposed for Shetland. The Scottish Ministers had waved aside a request for a public inquiry, and ended up drafting reasons which ignored the obligations in the Wild Birds Directive in respect of this bird – the whimbrel. Lady Clark quashed the consent on this ground, and also decided that the wind farmer could not apply for the consent anyway because it had not got the requisite licence which she concluded was a pre-condition for such an application.
And there is a very good chance that the NGO which brought this challenge would not be entitled to do so if Mr Grayling gets his way, because it might well not have been held to have “standing”. Such a change he would regard as “firmly in the national interest”: see my post of last week on proposed reforms to judicial review rules. There are, to say the least, two sides to that argument about national interest, hence the importance of responding to his consultation paper, with its closing date of 1 November 2013.
Yesterday saw another poor piece of human rights reporting from the Telegraph, again from Home Affairs Correspondent David Barrett. Strasbourg human rights court threatens key counter-terrorism powers. It is a typical piece of hall-of-mirrors reporting; all of the basic elements are there but presented in a distorted and inaccurate way.
The piece is about the case of Sabure Malik, a British investment banker who was stopped by police in 2010 at Heathrow on his way back from an organised package tour to undertake the Hajj. Full details of his case, which is supported by Liberty, are in the Euoprean Court of Human Rights’ admissibility decision here. It was granted permission to proceed in May 2013, well before the David Miranda controversy which took place in August.
I’ll take this shortly.
At first glance, prisoner voting proponents may interpret the Supreme Court’s R (Chester) v Justice Secretary decision (see Adam Wagner’s previous post) as a defeat for advancing prisoner voting rights in the UK. This blog post offers a different perspective. By comparing Chester to the seminal US Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, we summarise that such proponents should take a step back and see the wood, rather than merely the trees. This is because Lord Mance’s Chester judgment offers human rights advocates, and therefore supporters of prisoner voting rights, an unequivocal foundation from which to defend future human rights claims.
Chester does not achieve the same ends as Marbury. Marbury established the institution of judicial review in the United States, against Congressional legislation. Chester does not disturb the supremacy of the UK Parliament. Comparison arises within the strategies of the leading judgments in each case. Chief Justice Marshall’s judgment in Marbury is celebrated not only for its conclusion, that the Constitution of the United States is the highest form of law and therefore “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is”, but also for how it reached that conclusion.
R (on the application of Chester) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Justice (Respondent), McGeoch (AP) (Appellant) v The Lord President of the Council and another (Respondents) (Scotland)  UKSC 63 - read judgment / press summary
The Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling recently told The Spectator that he wants “to see our Supreme Court being supreme again“. In light of his respect for the court, he should read today’s judgment on prisoner votes very carefully indeed, as should David Cameron who has already endorsed the decision as a “great victory for common sense”.
The Supreme Court dismissed two claims by prisoners who argued their European Convention (Chester) and European Union (McGeogh) rights were being breached because they weren’t allowed to vote in various elections. I won’t summarise the detail of their arguments, which can be found in our previous posts on the Court of Appeal and Scottish Outer House Court of Session decisions.
We will aim to cover the substance of the decisions in due course. But what I find really interesting was the Justices’ views on the European Court’s various decisions on prisoner votes, which the Government argued were poorly reasoned.
Commission v. UK, Opinion of Advocate-General Kokott, 12 September 2013 read opinion here
Forgive me for returning to this case, but it raises all sorts of questions. On the face of it, it concerns 2 specific environmental directives, but it has implications for costs generally in environmental cases.
And why do I go on about costs? Because the prospect of being seriously out of pocket deters even the most altruistic environmentalist if they lose. Some may be purely NIMBYs, but most have a rather wider sense of the things that matter and that is not just about protecting their own assets. Claimants are normally up against public authorities and/or developers, so the balance of power has to be struck in the right place between them.
Benkharbouche v Embassy of the Republic of Sudan (Jurisdictional Points: State Immunity)  UKEAT 0401_12_0410 4 October 2013 – read judgment
These appeals, heard at the same time, raise the question whether someone employed in the UK by a foreign diplomatic mission as a member of its domestic staff may bring a claim to assert employment rights against the country whose mission it is, despite being met by an assertion of State Immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978. The EAT regarded itself bound by the supremacy of EU law to disapply the SIA, despite the fact that it had no jurisdiction to do so under the 1998 Human Rights Act.
This is the first time that the full force of the rights contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms has made itself felt in a domestic dispute between private parties (although the embassies themselves are state institutions, as an employment dispute the matter is one of private law only). If upheld on appeal, this ruling will have consequences that extend far beyond the somewhat esoteric area of the immunity of diplomatic missions, and will make the effect of the Human Rights Act look puny by comparison (as pointed out by Joshua Rozenberg in his post on this case). Continue reading
Osborn v The Parole Board  UKSC 61 – Read judgment / Press summary
1 Crown Office Row’s David Manknell acted as junior counsel to the Parole Board in this case. He had no involvement in the writing of this post.
Writing in his magisterial new work, Human Rights and the UK Supreme Court, Professor Brice Dickson noted that the Human Rights Act had created ‘an internationalized system of human rights protection rather than a constitutional one.’ Indeed, there had been a marked resistance on the part of the Supreme Court to use the common law to achieve the same goal of human rights protection. In Osborn v The Parole Board the Supreme Court seemed to resile from this position.
Osborn, and the co-joined appeals, concerned the circumstances in which the Parole Board is required to hold oral hearings. Osborn had been recalled to prison after an immediate breach of his licence conditions. Booth and Reilly had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and in both cases the minimum term had expired. The appellants sought early release and had been denied an oral hearing by the Parole Board under the operation of the statutory regime (detailed in paras 3-17). Instead their cases had been decided on paper by a single anonymous member of the Board.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami et al v. European Parliament, CJEU, 3 October 2013 (read judgment), following Advocate General Kokott, 17 January 2013, read opinion and my post
This important case is all about “standing” before the EU courts, namely the ability to complain about some EU act that affects you. Lack of standing means that even if a measure was wrong and unlawful, you cannot get your foot in the door of the court. Domestic rules are quite relaxed, though proposals by Government to make it more difficult to sue Government and other public authorities are currently being consulted upon. But you cannot say that an EU law is unlawful without going to Luxembourg.
The EU Courts have always been very restrictive about the circumstances in which an individual can do so. A brief blip (C-50/00 UPA) a few years ago by a UK Advocate-General suggesting that things be done differently was squashed by the Court. And since then it has been one-way traffic in the EU Courts, brushing off criticism from NGOs and indeed the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in 2011 (see here). For a good summary of the EU case law up to 2011, see the ACCC at -
Recent Treaty amendments in Lisbon have, it will be seen, made little difference to the result.
Aarhus seems to seep into cases everywhere, so I thought it was about time to start from scratch.
1. What is Aarhus? Denmark’s second city. You can write it like Århus, if you want a bit more Jutland cred. Ryanair fly there-ish (45km away).
2. How do you say it? Something like Orr-hoose: Danes, any better transliteration?
3. Why do lawyers go on about it? Because the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention was signed there in 1998. It came into force on 30 October 2001.
4. UN-ECE? United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, a regional organisation made under Article 68 of the UN Charter
5. What is the Convention about? 3 things (or pillars, in treaty-argot).
- Access to environmental information
- public participation in environmental decision-making, and
- access to justice in environmental matters.
6. Is the UK signed up? Yes, founder member. It ratified it in 2005, when the EU did.
R (on the application of LITVINENKO) v SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (2013) QBD (Admin) 4 October 2013, judgment behind Lawtel paywall UPDATED x 2
An extraordinary story which would have raised our eyebrows at its implausibility had it come from our spy novelists. In late 2006, Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by polonium-210 given to him in London. He was an ex-Russian Federation FSB agent, but by then was a UK citizen. He had accused Putin of the murder of the journalist Anna Politovskaya. He may or may not have been working for MI6 at the time of his death. The prime suspects for the killing are in Russia, not willing to help the UK with its inquiries. But rightly, in one form or another, we want to know what really happened.
Not entirely surprisingly, Marina Litvinenko said that her husband had been murdered on orders from the Russian Federation. An inquest started, though the UK Government said that much of what the coroner wanted to inquire was off limits because covered by public interest immunity. In the light of this stance, the coroner, Sir Robert Owen, a senior high court judge, had said that any investigation into Litvinenko’s death could only be adequately carried out by a public inquiry. The secretary of state refused to order such an inquiry, saying that it could take place after the inquest if necessary. The inquest continues, but it can therefore only look at part of the story.