Supreme Court: unfairness/equal treatment only an aspect of irrationality

16 May 2018 by

R (o.t.a. Gallaher et al) v. Competition and Markets Authority  [2018] UKSC 25, 16 May 2018, read judgment

UK public law is very curious. You could probably write much of its substantive law on a couple of postcards, and yet it continues to raise problems of analysis and application which tax the system’s finest legal brains.

This much is clear from today’s Supreme Court’s decision that notions of public law unfairness and equal treatment are no more than aspects of irrationality.

The CMA (then the OFT) were investigating tobacco price-fixing. Gallaher et al reached an early settlement with the OFT, at a discount of their fines. Another price-fixer, TMR, did likewise, but extracted an assurance from the OFT that, if there were a successful appeal by others against the OFT decision, the OFT would apply the outcome of any appeal to TMR, and accordingly withdraw or vary its decision against TMR.

6 other parties then appealed successfully. TMR asked and got its money back from the OFT relying on the assurance.

Gallaher et al tried to appeal out of time, and were not allowed to. They then turned round to the OFT and said, by reference to TMR: why can’t we have our money back?

As Lord Briggs points out, the OFT had three choices when the 6 other parties had successfully appealed:

(a) go back on the assurance to TMR;

(b) extend that assurance to Gallaher at al;

(c) honour the assurance to TMR, but not extend it to others.

This judicial review, which had succeeded in the Court of Appeal, was about whether the OFT was wrong in law to choose (c) over (b).

Note that the OFT had not given any assurance to Gallaher, and Gallaher was unaware of the assurance to TMR when Gallaher agreed to settle.

The principles

The case came before the Supreme Court asking whether the OFT was in breach of its duty of fairness and of equal treatment, these duties to be drawn from domestic and EU law public law principles.

The unanimous answer was no.

Lord Carnwath, supported in particular by Lord Sumption, pointed out that there is no distinct principle of equal treatment in domestic law. Relying particularly on Lord Hoffmann in Matadeen, he pointed out that equal treatment may be an important democratic principle, and a general principle of rational behaviour, but this did not make it, without more, a justiciable principle – it should not always be the judges who had the last word on whether the principle had been observed.

Similar points arose in the supposed legal principle of fairness. Unfairness by itself was not a ground for judicial review, and much-quoted dicta in cases such as Preston or Unilever did not establish such a duty.

Instead, these notions were aspects of the legal principle of irrationality. It was, generally speaking, irrational to treat like parties in an unlike fashion. Similarly, the principle of legitimate expectation of equal treatment was simply an aspect of rational behaviour by a public authority. But, as Lord Carnwath pointed out at [20], identifying a legitimate expectation does not tell you anything about whether that expectation confers rights and remedies in public law.

Hence, the Court said, language in the authorities like “conspicuous” unfairness, or unfairness amounting to an “abuse of power”,

adds nothing to the ordinary principles of judicial review, notably in the present context irrationality and legitimate expectation. It is by reference to those principles that cases such as the present must be judged. [41]

As Lord Sumption pithily summarised his views on equal treatment and unfairness at [51]

In public law, as in most other areas of law, it is important not unnecessarily to multiply categories. It tends to undermine the coherence of the law by generating a mass of disparate special rules distinct from those applying in public law generally or those which apply to neighbouring categories. To say that a decision-maker must treat persons equally unless there is a reason for treating them differently begs the question what counts as a valid reason for treating them differently.

And

Likewise, to say that the result of the decision must be substantively fair, or at least not “conspicuously” unfair, begs the question by what legal standard the fairness of the decision is to be assessed. Absent a legitimate expectation of a different result arising from the decision-maker’s statements or conduct, a decision which is rationally based on relevant considerations is most unlikely to be unfair in any legally cognisable sense

The answer

Disagreeing with the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court had no difficulty in allowing the OFT’s appeal.

Per Lord Sumption, a price-fixer being investigated by the OFT was entitled either to the discount for an early settlement or to the benefit of further investigation and/or an appeal, not both: [48]. The oral assurance “unwisely” given to TMR disturbed this “careful drawn balance”; such an assurance was mistakenly given: [52].

Given those findings, it was hardly surprising that the Court concluded that it was not irrational not to repay Gallaher, even though TMR had been repaid. Yes,the treatment was different but that difference was objectively justifiable.

Conclusion

Some legal text-book writers may be looking to prune their next editions in the light of this. The slimming down of legal principle may be thought to be desirable, and some of the 1980s pronouncements about what is or is not an abuse of power worthy of judicial intervention look a bit dated and question-begging.

But given that irrationality is somewhat more expansive than it was in years past, it may be that this result may make no difference to the outcome of most, if not all, judicial reviews.

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

Read more

1 comment;


  1. Ravi Low-Beer says:

    Beautifully summarised, thank you!

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Tags


7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation DEFRA Democracy village deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Family Family life fatal accidents act Fertility FGM Finance fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Germany Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection hammerton v uk happy new year Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII hereditary disorder Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2011/04/11/us-state-department-reports-on-uk-human-rights/ Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interim remedies international international criminal court international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College koran burning Labour Lady Hale LASPO Law Pod UK Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence limestone pavements lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Sumption Lord Taylor luftur rahman MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: