R (o.t.a Buckingham County Council and others) v. Secretary of State for Transport, 15 March 2012, Ouseley J - read judgment - Updated
In a 259-page judgment, Ouseley J has today rejected all but one of the challenges brought to the Government’s plans for HS2. This is the proposed high speed rail link to Birmingham, and potentially beyond. The host of challengers (including local authorities, local residents and action groups (under the umbrella of HS2AA), and - wait for it – Aylesbury Golf Club) brought a host of challenges – 10 in all, of which 9 were unsuccessful. I shall do my best to summarise those of wider interest.
Last month the Prime Minister promised business leaders that he would “get a grip” on people forcing unnecessary delays to Government policy by cracking down on the “massive growth industry” of Judicial Review (JR), the means by which individuals and organisations can challenge poor decisions by public authorities in the courts. He even, in a new twist on Goodwin’s Law, compared cutting down on court challenges to beating Hitler.
The consultation document is detailed and is worth reading. It certainly does not reflect the bombast of the Prime Minister’s statement that “We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ – and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race“. What is proposed is a fairly significant reform of the Judicial Review system, and nothing as dramatic as winning World War II. There are, however, some problems with the Government’s analysis which I will come to later.
The interaction between the law and religion or belief is rarely out of the headlines. Debate rages about whether Article 9, the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, receives sufficient – or too much – protection in the courts. There has been a considerable amount of litigation, much of it contentious (see, for example, here, here and here)
A new report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) by researchers at London Metropolitan University, including myself, explores these controversies. It is based largely on interviews and roundtable discussions with around 100 religion or belief groups, human rights and/or equality organisations, employers, public service staff, academics and lawyers. It is concerned as much with differing perceptions and understandings of the law as with the law itself. It also examines the practical application of the law in the workplace and public services.
A, R (o.t.a A) v. Chief Constable of B Constabulary  EWCA 2141 (Admin), Kenneth Parker J, 26 July 2012, read judgment
The public/private divide still gets lawyers excited, even in an Olympic summer, and for good reason – my image is simply to cool the fevered brow of those fresh from the stadium or the beach. Now for the problem met head on in this case. Generally speaking, parties to a contract may treat the others how they please, as long as that treatment does not offend the terms of the contract or specific consumer protection rules. But, equally generally, a public body is obliged to treat others in accordance with public law rules of fairness, and can challenge unfairness by judicial review. And this case is a good example of the intersection between these principles.
A had run a breakdown recovery service for the police for some years. The police then interposed a main contractor, FMG, who awarded the contract to A for the continuation of the job, now as a subcontractor. But the sub-contract, understandably enough, provided that its award was subject to vetting by the police. And the police then refused to give A clearance. Why? The police would not say, even when A threatened proceedings. And they said that they did not have to. Their line in court was that it was all governed by the contract, and the courts had no business in poking its nose into their reasoning – in the jargon, it was non-justiciable. They relented to some extent in the course of the proceedings, by giving some information, but still said that they were not obliged to do so.
The facts of this case can be stated very briefly, since the main (and most interesting) question before the Curt was whether the applicant company constituted a “victim” of a human rights violation under the Convention.
The applicant s a joint-stock company trading in oil. In the past, including at the time of the contested judgment of the Constitutional Court, the state owned 51% of the shares in the applicant company. The remaining shares were owned by private parties. At present all of the shares in the company are owned by the state.
The application before the Court concerned the fairness of proceedings before the Constitutional Court regarding the ownership of shares in the company. The applicant company complained that the proceedings were contrary to its rights under Article 6(1) (fair trial) of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (peaceful enjoyment of possessions). The complaint was dismissed under Article 34 as being inadmissible (incompatible ratione personae, i.e. the status of the applicant). For the purposes of clarity, here is the relevant text of Article 34:
The Court may receive applications from any person, non-governmental organisation or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation by one of the High Contracting Parties of the rights set forth in the Convention or the Protocols thereto. Continue reading →
R(on the application of Yunus Bakhsh) v Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust  EWHC 1445 (Admin) - read judgment
This fascinating short judgment explores the extent to which a judicial review claim, or a free-standing claim under the Human Rights Act, may be precluded by a statute covering the same issue.
If Parliament has decided on a particular avenue of appeal in a certain context, and settled upon a sum in compensation, do the courts have any room for manoeuvre outside those statutory limits? There is very strong authority to the effect that the courts have no discretion to grant any relief going beyond the remedy which Parliament has seen fit to provide (see Johnson v Unisys Ltd  1 AC 518). But on arguability grounds at least, this short permission decision by Foskett J suggests that public law must attend to the policy behind the statute. If the redress provided by the legislation does not fully serve the aims of that policy, it may be that public law has to come to the rescue.
In essence the claimant, a former mental nurse who had been sacked because of his trade union activities and not granted reinstatement, was seeking to challenge the decision by his employer, a public NHS trust, not re-engage him after it had been ordered to do so by an Employment Tribunal in 2010. The reason they failed to do so was not put forward but was probably because of his anticipated continued trade union militancy. Continue reading →
For the last year or so, the law of nuisance has been in a state of flux pending this appeal. In this case about an odorous landfill, Coulson J had ruled that compliance with the waste permit amounted to a defence to a claim in nuisance, and that a claimant had to prove negligence in the operation of the landfill before he could claim in nuisance. The Court of Appeal has today reversed this decision.
The European Court of Human Rights has announced today that it will deliver two Grand Chamber judgments, in the cases of Axel Springer AG v Germanyand von Hannover v Germany (No.2) on 7 February 2012. The cases were both heard more than 15 months ago, on 13 October 2010.
We had a post about the hearing at the time (and an earlier preview).Both cases concern the publication in the media of material which is alleged to be private. The Axel Springercase concerned the publication in “Bild” of an article about a well-known television actor, being arrested for possession of cocaine. The article was illustrated by three pictures of the actor. The German court granted him an injunction to prohibit the publication of the article and the photos. The applicant company did not challenge the judgment concerning the photos. The newspaper published a second article in July 2005, which reported on the actor being convicted and fined for illegal possession of drugs after he had made a full confession.
Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has thrown a firecracker into the consultation on gay marriage, which is about to begin in March. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph he declared that he did not agree that it was the role of the state to define what marriage is. ”It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are”.
Gay rights campaigners have poured scorn on this pronouncement, calling the Archbishop a “religious authoritarian” who wants to ”impose his personal opposition to same-sex marriage on the rest of society.” But this outbreak of bad temper – not unpredictable, given the skirmishing over the consultation on the same issue which took place in Scotland last year – raises the wider issue of the role and influence of church leaders in the process of legal change.
In a secular society, the participation of clerics in the House of Lords is grudgingly accepted as part of an ancient tradition. And on this issue at least, the general view seems to be that the Church has grounds for complaint. The current system recognises gay partnerships under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA). But the main change is to alter the Equality Act so as to allow such partnerships to take place on religious premises, and it is that which is being so bitterly opposed, apparently because it brings the matter within the church’s bailiwick. But even if it does, we have to ask what it is that privileges Sentamu’s voice over any others in the debate over whether gay and heterosexual partnerships should be on an equal footing in all respects, including the place where they are registered. Continue reading →
The proposals have been little reported, save for journalist Joshua Rozenberg, channeling Dinah Rose QC, warning that they will “undermine a fundamental constitutional right:”. Perhaps legal correspondents prefer to pick over testimony from the glamorous Leveson Inquiry as opposed to complicated government proposals involving clunky phrases – some would say fig leaves – like “Closed Material Procedure” and “Special Advocate”.
But these proposals are extremely important. If they become law, which is likely given the lack of opposition from any of the main parties, the justice system will look very different in the coming years. Many civil hearings could be held in secret, and although (as the Government argues anyway) more justice may be done, undoubtedly less will be seen to be done.
The underlying question was whether the Duchy of Cornwall had to answer Michael Bruton’s requests for information about the Duchy’s oyster farm, and in particular whether the farm had undergone environmental assessment before it commenced operation. Bruton’s concerns were that the Duchy’s oysters were non-native Pacific oysters, and he wanted to know whether the Duchy had considered whether the establishment of such a fishery affected existing oysters or had other effects upon the environment. In many regards, the case is round 2 of a battle started by Bruton in 2009 challenging the original grant of a licence by the Duchy to the oyster fisherman: see the 2009 decision by Burton J granting permission for this challenge. In the present case, the Information Commissioner said that the Duchy was not obliged to provide the information. The FTT disagreed.
The report is highly critical of the legislation, which it argues is ”neither forward-looking nor human rights compliant“. Its “poor drafting has allowed councils to snoop, phone hacking to flourish, privileged conversations to be illegally recorded, and CCTV to spread.” Metcalfe recommends, unsurprisingly, “root-and-branch” reform.
On the one hand, many people feel strongly that retention of something as personal as someone’s genetic code should never be done when the person has not been convicted of a crime. As DNA analysis gets more advanced, it can reveal increasingly large amounts of information about a person.
In the UK and EU, there are a lot of statutes and rules about climate change, and relatively little strategic litigation. Hop over the Pond, and we see exactly the reverse, a reflection of different political dynamics with the hostility of the US Congress to climate change legislation.
It is interesting to look at some of the US cases, not only because they lock horns with one of the big issues of our time, but also because they reflect a common problem the courts face in deciding their role when confronted with science which is, or is said to be, controversial.
We should start with the groundbreaking decision in Massachusetts v. EPA (549 U.S. 497 (2007)). The US Supreme Court held that the US Environmental Protection Agency had a duty to use its existing powers under the Clean Air Act and assess whether greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from vehicles were a danger to the environment and, if that was the case, to regulate them. In the litigation, and contrary to the opinion of two of its previous general counsels, it had denied that it was under a duty to do so. This judgment was a highly important ruling, as it meant that no new legislation was necessary to get the climate change ball rolling. Thereafter the EPA turned to how it should regulate GHG emissions, as we shall see.
Atapattu, R. (On the Application of) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1388 (Admin) - read judgment
1 Crown Office Row’s John Joliffe appeared for the Secretary of State the Home Department in this case. He is not the writer of this post.
This case on the wrongful retention of the passport of a Sri Lankan national raises some interesting questions about the scope of the duty owed by the Home Office’s agents when exercising their powers of entry clearance under the Immigration Act 1971.
The question in this case was whether the claimant, who had applied for a United Kingdom student visa, could sue the Secretary of State for the Home Department for damages for conversion under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. There were other submissions, that the withholding of the passport breached his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 and that the Secretary of State was liable to him in negligence. Continue reading →