Fish Legal v Information Commissioner and others (Information rights practice and procedure)  UKUT 52 (AAC) Charles J – read judgment
Water and sewage utility companies are “public authorities” for the purposes of the environmental information regulations, and are bound by them accordingly, the Administrative Appeals Chamber of the Upper Tribunal has ruled.
Fish Legal is the legal arm of the Angling Trust. In 2009 it asked United Utilities Water plc and Yorkshire Water Services Ltd for information relating to discharges, clean-up operations, and emergency overflow. Emily Shirley is a private individual. Again, she asked Southern Water Services Ltd for information relating to sewerage capacity for a planning proposal in her village. All three companies denied that they were under a duty to provide the information under Environmental Information Regulations. Both Fish Legal and Mrs Shirley complained to the Commissioner. In 2010 the Commissioner replied, explaining that as the companies were not public authorities for the purposes of EIR, he had no power to adjudicate the complaints. Continue reading
Trafford v Blackpool Borough Council  EWHC 85 – read judgment
The High Court has held that a local authority had abused its powers by refusing to offer a solicitor a new lease of the claimant’s office premises.
The claimant solicitor was aggrieved by the fact that the stated reason for the defendant’s refusal was that her firm had brought claims against the Council on behalf of clients seeking compensation for injuries alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the Council, predominantly in highways “tripping” type claims.
HHJ Davies held that the Council had exercised its “wide discretion” under Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1912 for an improper purpose and was “fundamentally tainted by illegality” on that basis. The Council’s refusal was both Wednesbury unreasonable and procedurally unfair.
Public versus private
The interesting question central to this case was whether or not a public body, acting under statutory powers in deciding whether or not to renew or terminate a contract, was acting under public law duties, and therefore amenable to judicial review, or whether the relationship between the claimant and the defendant was one governed exclusively by private law, where judicial review has no part to play . Continue reading
Fish 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
Smith v Trafford Housing Trust  EWHC 3221 (Ch) – read judgment
Turner v East Midlands Trains  EWCA Civ 1470 – read judgment
Two employment cases, about Facebook and train tickets respectively, indicate the difficulties of deciding where human rights may or may not be raised in disputes between private parties – neither defendant in these cases was a public authority.
It is perfectly clear that where there is a statutory provision under attack, Section 3 of the Human Rights Act mandates the “reading down” of its wording to conform to Convention rights even though there is no “public authority” amongst the parties to the litigation. The Turner case below illustrates this particular aspect of the “horizontal” effect of the HRA in disputes between private parties.