When the court should look over the shoulder of a decision-maker


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth No.2) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Garnham J,
21 November 2016, transcript awaited

A quick follow-up ruling to the judgment of 2 November (here) in which the UK’s air pollution plans under EU and domestic laws were found wanting by the Administrative Court. The pollutant was nitrogen dioxide – a major product of vehicle exhaust fumes. 

This Monday’s hearing was to decide precisely what the Government should be ordered to do in respect of the breach. The judgment was extempore, but the short reports available (e.g. here) suggest that the ruling is of some interest. 

The parties had already agreed that it was unnecessary  to quash the existing plan, which could remain in place until the following year whilst DEFRA prepared a new plan – presumably on the basis that a defective plan was better than no plan at all.

This week’s disputed issues related to timing for a new plan and whether and how the court could or should keep a watchful eye on Governmental progress.

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Court says – again – UK must comply with EU air pollution law


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth No.2) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 2 November 2016, judgment here

This is all about nitrogen dioxide in air, an unwanted byproduct of the internal combustion engine. Its effect on UK mortality has been estimated at 23,500 deaths per year. 

The long way of telling the story involves circling around 6 hearings, to the Supreme Court, twice, to the CJEU in 2014 (C404-13, my post here), and now to a trenchant judgment from Garnham J. 

The short version is this.

The UK has been non-compliant with EU Directive 2008/50 on nitrogen dioxide (et al) over the last 6 years. Art.23 of the Directive requires that the period in which a state is obliged to remedy any non-compliance is to be “as short as possible”.

The UK Air Quality Plan (AQP) produced in 2015 (and responding to the 2nd Supreme Court judgment here) was simply not up to ensuring that urgently required result.

In so concluding, Garnham J started with the construction of Art.23, in response to a Defra argument that it imports an element of discretion and judgment.

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A cyber scene of crime – in everybody’s home

cybercrime-100534917-primary-idgeThis blog has covered a number of claims for damages arising out of the misuse of private information. The Mirror Group phone hacking case is one example (see my post here and the appeal decision here), and the fall-out from the hapless Home Office official who put private information about asylum-seekers on the Internet, being another – (Gideon Barth’s post on TLT here). See also below for related posts.

But this post is to give a bit of context, via the wider and scarier cyber crime which is going on all around us. It threatens the livelihoods of individuals and businesses the globe over – and has given and will undoubtedly give rise to complex spin-off litigation.

So let’s just start with the other week. On 21 October 2016, it seems nearly half the Internet was hit by a massive DDoS attack affecting a company, Dyn, which provides internet services infrastructure for a host of  websites. Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, WIRED, Spotify and the New York Times were affected. DDoS, for cyber virgins, is Distributed Denial of Service, i.e. an overloading of servers via a flood of malicious requests, in this case from tens of millions of IP addresses. No firm culprits so far, but a botnet called Mirai seems to be in the frame. It is thought that non-secure items like cars, fridges and cameras connected to the Internet (the Internet of Things) may be the conscripted foot soldiers in such attacks.

And now to the sorts of cases which have hit the headlines in this country to date.

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Informed consent: Surgeons respond to Montgomery

ec4e596da86038e44828eb708fa82e3dOn 27 October 2016, the Royal College of Surgeons issued some guidance (here) on obtaining consent in the light of the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Montgomery (judgment here, my post here).

The angle of the guidance is obvious, not simply addressed to its member surgeons, but to the NHS to persuade it to allow enough time for surgeons to consent patients properly. And the “steel” in its message was that there would be a significant hike in the bill which would be paid by the NHS for successful claims if consent was not taken properly in future.

Most readers will know the importance of Montgomery. It reversed Sidaway, 30 years before, which said that it was for doctors to decide how much to tell patients about the risks of treatment, and,  if what the patient was told was in line with what other doctors would say (the Bolam principle), no claim would lie. So, per 1980s law, the quality of consent should be determined by medical evidence rather than what the individual patient could reasonably expect to be told.

Montgomery strongly disagreed. Patients have their own autonomy. They differ in their appreciation of surgical risks, and the impact that the occurrence of the risk might have upon their particular lives. The point is well illustrated by an example in the RCS press release. Bypass surgery carries the possibility of loss of sensation in the hand, which may be a minor risk for many patients but very important to, say, a pianist. Why should a clinician be able to advise a patient in the abstract, without knowing whether they have a pianist before them?

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The subtle hand of human rights – and more Aarhus

1440788_1738fc0eR (o.t.a. Dowley) v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2016] EWHC 2618 (Admin) Patterson J, 20 October 2016 – read judgment

This challenge was about a landowner not wishing to let those wishing to develop Sizewell C nuclear power station onto her land to carry out surveys and investigations. But it came down to a disagreement about the terms which such entry might occur. For s.53 Planning Act 2008 enables the Secretary of State to allow such entry, subject to conditions, and with the proviso that the landowner may claim compensation for “damage caused to lands or chattels” (s.53(7)) via a claim to the Upper Tribunal.

The entry in question was not insubstantial; the developer wished to have access to some 75 acres of the 420 acres of the claimant’s estate, for surveys relating for possible spoil storage, roads and builders accommodation if the project was to proceed.

The major fall-out was over the issue of the extent of compensation. And this, as we shall see, is where human rights came in, albeit in a topsy-turvy way.

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Mandatory order to stop bribery investigation?

wasR (o.t.a Soma Oil & Gas) v. Director of the Serious Fraud Office [2016] EWHC 2471 (Admin) 12 October 2016 – read judgment

Soma are investing heavily ($40m spent on seismic work) in looking at oil and gas extraction in Somalia, so it was a bit of a set-back, to say the least, when their “capacity-building” efforts – funding infrastructure in the relevant Ministry – were alleged to fall under the Bribery Act 2010, and this led to a fraud investigation by the UK SFO. The investigations, as investigations do, dragged on, and Soma brought these, somewhat ambitious, proceedings to get an order telling the SFO to stop them.

As you may have guessed, the claim failed, though, as we will see, it may have achieved rather different benefits.

The judgment of the Administrative Court is a concise account of when the private challenger can and cannot seek orders in respect of investigations and prosecutions – whether to stop or start them. Here Soma wanted to stop the investigation. In other circumstances, a victim may want the authorities to start an investigation or prosecution into another party: see, e.g. Chaudhry, decided earlier this week.

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Privacy of a doctor under GMC investigation clashes with that of his patient

privacy-policy-fullDr DB v. General Medical Council [2016] EWHC 2331 (QB), 23 September 2016, Soole J – read judgment

An interesting three-way privacy fight between a GP, a patient who had complained about his treatment by the GP, and the GMC who had investigated that complaint. The prize in that fight was a copy of a medical report obtained by the GMC from an independent expert, which had concluded that the GP’s care had fallen below “but not seriously below” the expected standard.

The patient had wanted a copy of the report; all he had seen so far was a one-page summary. His motive was to investigate a possible claim for clinical negligence, arising out of the delayed diagnosis of his bladder cancer. The GP refused consent. 

The GMC then concluded it should disclose the report to the patient. And the GP brought these proceedings to stop disclosure. Continue reading