UK 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.
R (on the application of T) v Legal Aid Agency (formerly Legal Services Commission)  EWHC 960 (Admin) Collins J, 26 April 2013 read judgment This successful challenge to a decision by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) arose from an expert assessor in family proceedings – not unnaturally – refusing to begin work unless funding was in place. If the LAA are asked to fund an assessment on behalf of a party with legal aid, then it is common for lawyers to obtain prior authority from the LAA to ensure that the expert will be paid for their work. If not, then the lawyers themselves can be liable for an expert’s costs. In this case, prior authority to pay for the expert assessment had been refused by the LAA thus resulting in further court hearings and delay in the resolution of the case for the children.
The application for judicial review of the LAA came before Collins J. He concluded that:
For the reasons given the decision of the defendant was wrong in law. Reasons have not been given. This might not have led to any relief beyond a declaration if I were persuaded that the only result could be that the decision was confirmed. Not only am I not so persuaded but I find it difficult to see that it would be reasonable, at least without engaging with the judge whether in writing or orally, to fail to comply with what she has decided is necessary. Continue reading
R (on the application of H) v Kingston Upon Hull City Council & KS, AS, SS, TS and FS (Interested Parties)  EWHC 388 (Admin) read judgment
This was a successful claim for judicial review brought by a mother in care proceedings in respect of her two children who were removed from the care of the paternal grandparents. To that extent, it is a first. It concerns the duty on the Local Authority to consult with parents when an Interim Care Order is in place.
The claim raised two points. The first concerned whether it was permissible to bring a claim for JR when there were ongoing care proceedings and secondly the extent of the Local Authority’s duty to consult with parents when an ICO is in force. As to the latter point, there were two decisions that were challenged by the mother. The first was a decision taken on 31st January 2013 and the second concerned a decision taken on 1st February 2013 both concerning the placement of her children under the ICO.
Remember Pearl Harbour? Not the 1941 attack which propelled the USA into World War II, but the awful 2001 film starring Ben Affleck. What really sticks in the mind wasn’t the film itself, but the critical reaction. It is hard to remember a more gleeful spectacle, captured here, than reviewers falling over themselves to see who could produce the most withering response.
No doubt inspired by the Prime Minister’s own World War II analogy (on reflection, something of a hostage to fortune), legal commentators and organisations have also been falling over themselves, if not gleefully, to express their collective displeasure and disbelief at the poor quality of the Government’s proposals to reform Judicial Review.
The Government’s consultation on Judicial Review ends on Thursday 24 January – please forward your response to the consultation by email and I will include it in a roundup.
It is fashionable at the moment to speak about ‘evidence-based’ policy. The concept has been imported from the sciences by advocates such as Dr Ben Goldacre. In short, policies should be based on empirical evidence, statistics and perhaps even randomised trials. Very sensible. So sensible, you would hope that Government has been doing it anyway.
Which brings me to the planned reform of Judicial Review, the process by which legislative and executive decisions are reviewed by judges to make sure they are lawful. The Government’s ideas are fairly significant, although not quite as major as defeating Hitler, as the Prime Minister intimated they were when he announced them. I have already looked at the proposals in some detail – see also this excellent post. I wanted to concentrate here on the broader picture; the ‘mood music’, as it has been described by Mark Elliott.
The Queen on the application of Totel Ltd v The First-Tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber) and The Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs  EWCA Civ 1401 – read judgment
Tax litigation is not the most obvious hunting ground for human rights points but if claimants feel sufficiently pinched by what they perceive as unfair rules, there is nothing to stop them appealing to the courts’ scrutiny of the lawfulness of those rules.
Human rights were not raised per se in this appeal but constitutional principles which arguably play the same role made all the difference to the outcome.
This case concerned the removal of a right of appeal by an Order in Parliament that stopped the appellant company (T) in its tracks, so naturally it turned to judicial review to find a remedy that the tax tribunal was not prepared to grant. T prayed in aid a fundamental principle of our unwritten constitution set out in R (Spath Holme Ltd) v Secretary of State for Transport, the Environment and Regions  2 WLR 15:
Parliament does not lightly take the exceptional course of delegating to the executive the power to amend primary legislation. When it does so the enabling power should be scrutinised, should not receive anything but a narrow and strict construction and any doubts about its scope should be resolved by a restrictive approach. Continue reading
Child Poverty Action Group, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 2579 (Admin) (17 July 2012) – read judgment
The High Court has ruled that the government acted unlawfully by removing the Child Poverty Commission, an advisory body set up under the Child Poverty Act 2010 . They had also acted beyond their powers by preparing a child poverty strategy without having requested and having regard to the advice of that Commission. But government is free to formulate new policy and as such there was nothing irrational about the strategy itself.
There is of necessity a great deal of statutory construction in this judgment which makes for dry reading. But the ruling is an important reassessment of the principles of judicial review that have taken root since the power of the courts to intervene in government decision making was reinforced in Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission  2 A.C. 147. This ruling, as every law student knows, established that a public body acts unlawfully, both in the narrow sense of acting outside its jurisdiction, and where such jurisdiction was wrongly exercised. This means that courts may intervene not just where a governmental act is unlawful under an express provision of the statute but also where the decision or policy, although authorised by statute, has been made in breach of a rule of public law. 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
The case of The Queen on the application of Evans v Secretary Of State For Defence is continuing today in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, before Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Cranston.
Maya Evans, an activist, is brining a judicial review against the Ministry of Defence in respect of the British Army’s detainee transfer policy in Afghanistan. It is alleged that British forces knew of the torture risks when handing over prisoners to the Afghan security services.
This is the latest in a series of cases where the Government have been criticised in the courts for defence policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, the House of Lords (the old Supreme Court) in Al-Skeini effectively opened the door to such claims by foreign nationals by holding that the Human Rights Act applies outside of the UK.
The most notable recent example is the Binyam Mohamed case, where the Court of Appeal heavily criticised the security services. Similar issues in relation to secret evidence appear to have arisen in Evans, with The Guardian reporting:
So concerned is the Ministry of Defence about the challenge to the practice, that it is insisting that evidence it had passed to her lawyers must now be suppressed.
As a result, skeleton argument from her lawyers – a document consisting of an outline of the case – includes a number of passages blacked out at the insistence of the MoD.
Following one long excised passage, the document revealed in court today reads: “The lessons from these shocking events is … investigation by the NDS [Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security] is obviously incapable of providing any satisfaction of the UK’s human rights obligations.”
- Our posts on the Binyam Mohamed litigation can be found here, here, and here
- Our case comment on R (Mazin Mumaa Galteth Al Skeini and others) v Secretary of State for Defence