Media By: David Hart QC


Portuguese climate change claim in Strasbourg

18 September 2020 by

For a while, 6 Portuguese citizens, between the ages of 8 and 21, have been on the brink of starting proceedings in the European Court of Human Rights. Now it has happened. On 3 September 2020, they sent their claim to the ECtHR. They have been helped in its preparation by the Global Legal Network, which has helpfully put up here a summary as well as the salient parts of the documents sent to the Court.

The claim is against 33 Council of Europe countries (all the EU 27, plus the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine) for failing to take sufficient steps to address climate change. The failures alleged include permitting emissions domestically, permitting the export of fossil fuels extracted from their territories, permitting the import of goods containing embedded carbon, and allowing entities domiciled in those countries to contribute to emissions abroad (via fossil fuel extraction elsewhere or its financing).


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Duty of care owed by UK ship agent to Bangladeshi worker?

17 July 2020 by

Begum v. Maran (UK) Ltd [2020] EWHC 1846 (QB)

On 30 March 2018, whilst working on the demolition of an oil tanker on the beach at Chittagong, Bangladesh, Mr Mollah fell to his death.

There is powerful evidence that essentially manual ship breaking of this sort is extremely unsafe and carries environmental risk given the asbestos and heavy metals aboard: see e.g. the work of NGO Shipbreaking Platform here. It does not take much more than a glance at the photographs to appreciate the problem. Conditions were grim; Mr Mollah was working at least 70 hours a week for long pay. Some 200,000 workers are thought to work under these conditions.

But this litigation is happening in the UK Courts. Mr Mollah’s widow did not even know the name of her Bangladeshi employer and she did not sue the owner of the “yard” there – in practice, the beach.


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No well-tuned cymbal: fairness in judges

4 June 2020 by

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Serafin v. Malkiewicz [2020] UKSC 23

This is, to say the least, a rather unfortunate saga. The Claimant, Mr Serafin, brought a defamation claim against a Polish newspaper run by the Defendants. An article had alleged various things including that he was financially untrustworthy and was dishonest in his dealings with women. At trial before Jay J, he represented himself. He was comprehensively disbelieved by the judge. His claim was dismissed, in most cases because the judge found that the article was accurate, but in some instances because the defendants had a public interest defence under s. 4 Defamation Act 2013.

The Supreme Court, via a single judgment from Lord Wilson, thought that the judge’s judgment was “remarkable”, “intricately constructed and beautifully written”. So what, if anything, had gone wrong, and why did the SC order a retrial?


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How to divine statutory purpose: the Israel/arms trade disinvestment case

29 April 2020 by

R (o.t.a. Palestine Solidarity Campaign Ltd and Jacqueline Lewis) v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2020] UKSC 16- read judgment

As I said in my post on the 1st instance decision, many people like to have a say over the investment policies of their pension funds. They may not want investment in fossil fuels, companies with questionable working practices, arms manufacturers, Israel or indeed any company which supports Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – to choose but a few of people’s current choices. And pension funds, left to their own devices, may wish to adopt one or more of these choices to reflect their pensioners’ views. But can they under current local authority pensions law?

This case is about Government “Guidance” aimed at local authorities, banning some of those “ethical” objections to investment policies but allowing other objections. “Guidance” in quotes because the net effect of the Act and secondary legislation was to make the Guidance mandatory: see [10] of Lord Wilson’s judgment. In particular, the policy ban was to apply to (a) boycotts to foreign nations and (b) UK defence industries. The sharp focus of the former was Israel. No surprises that the Quakers and the Campaign against the Arms Trade should appear in support of the challenge to the latter.

The Guidance is applicable to local government pensions affecting 5 million current or former employees. So it arose on that ceaseless battleground of government’s direction/intermeddling in local government affairs: was it or was it not authorised by the underlying legislation?

The Guidance said that those running local authority pensions must not use their policies to

pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions…against foreign nations and UK defence industries…other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government;

or

“pursue policies that are contrary to UK foreign policy or UK defence policy”.

Did these prohibitions go beyond the SoS’s powers under the relevant pension provisions?

Answer, according to the Supreme Court, yes, but by a majority of 3-2.


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Loss from unlawful governmental action: the counterfactual?

11 March 2020 by

Vodafone et al v. Ofcom [2020] EWCA Civ 183

Ofcom make some unlawful regulations in 2015, under which telecom companies have to pay higher fees. The regulations were quashed in 2017. Four telecom companies want restitutionary damages, being the difference between the sums paid under the 2015 regulations and the sums they would have paid under their predecessors, the 2011 regulations.

Big money washing around: the claim was for over £200m.

Ofcom says – no, you are only entitled to the difference between the 2015 payments and the hypothetical fees which we could lawfully have charged had we done our job properly in 2017.

Sounds quite simple, but the answer goes deep into the intersection between public and private law.

The claim, as I have said, was restitutionary.

Ofcom said that the law of restitution is rooted in the private law of obligations. The private law approach (as with any tort claim) is to apply a “but for” test – what would the telecoms have paid but for the unlawfulness? This involves the counterfactual: what lawful fees could Ofcom have imposed?

The telecoms, and the Court of Appeal, disagreed. Ofcom’s argument offended the principles of legality, and parity (the principle that those who pay voluntarily should not be worse off compared to those who refuse to pay and litigate).


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CA declares Heathrow expansion decision unlawful on climate change grounds

27 February 2020 by

[2020] EWCA Civ 214 – read judgment

Airport expansion has taken a long and winding road, not least at Heathrow. But the proponents of the 3rd runway at Heathrow would have been heartened by the Secretary of State’s decision in June 2018 to set out a policy which preferred Heathrow over Gatwick and which was designed to steer planning processes thereafter in support of the new runway.

It is this decision which has just been declared unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

I am afraid this is where the planning jargon starts and the acronyms proliferate. The challenged decision was an Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). Under planning legislation, an ANPS “sets the fundamental framework within which further decisions will be taken,” as the CA put it in [275]. Those further decisions include the grant of permission for the particular project, done through the Development Consent Order (DCO) process. But you cannot challenge that fundamental framework later in the DCO process; you cannot say later, for instance, that expansion is not necessary at all, or there is a better alternative, say, Gatwick, if the ANPS has decided otherwise.


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“He tried to strangle me”

3 April 2019 by

Stocker v. Stocker [2019] UKSC 17read judgment

…..the graphic opening words of today’s decision by the Supreme Court in a defamation case. The next words are equally clear and arresting: ” What would those words convey to the “ordinary reasonable reader” of a Facebook Post?”

The context was a recently ended unhappy marriage between Mr Stocker (the Claimant) and Mrs Stocker (the Defendant), and a series of posts arising out of a Status Update by a Mrs Bligh (Mr Stocker’s new partner) in December 2015. Mrs Stocker and Mrs Bligh commented on each other’s posts for the next 2 hours 18 minutes. Mrs Stocker did not mince her words: “I hear you have been together 2 years? If so u might like to ask him who he was in bed with the last time he was arrested.”

This was quickly followed by “wouldn’t bring it up last time I accused him of cheating he spent a night in the cells, tried to strangle me..”. This was a reference to an incident which had happened some 12 years before.

Mr S did not take kindly to this attempt “to blacken [him] in the eyes of his current girlfriend and belittle her”: as the Court of Appeal put it.

He sued. He won before the judge, and before the Court of Appeal.

But the Supreme Court allowed Mrs S’s appeal.


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EU draft Withdrawal Agreement: what does it say?

15 November 2018 by

The draft Agreement – here – is a mere 585 pages. No harm in trying to read it, or the bits of it which are of particular interest, because in that respect you may be well ahead of some of the rather noisier politicians.

It may seem a bit premature to say too much about it, not least because of the political turmoils, but it promises that

(1) the EU and UK will “use their best endeavours” to have a future trade agreement concluded six months before the end of the transition period in December 2020; this is extensible on agreement thereafter;

(2) but that if this is not the case the EU and the UK could “jointly extend the transition period” for an unspecified period.

Anyway, first thoughts on some of the detail.

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Climate change human rights claim wins in the Dutch courts

14 October 2018 by

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State of Netherlands v. Urgenda Foundation, The Hague Court of Appeal, 9 October 2018, read judgment here

The Hague Court of Appeal has just upheld a decision by the District Court that the Dutch State had failed to do enough to combat climate change. In response to a claim by an NGO, Urgenda and 886 co-claimants, the Court ordered the State to reduce its emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 (benchmarked against 1990 emissions).

The case raises a mass of interesting issues, not least the various unsuccessful attempts by the State to avoid liability.

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Drug wars about macular degeneration

4 October 2018 by

jcm-04-00343-g004-1024Bayer Plc v NHS Darlington Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) and others [2018] EWHC 2465 (Admin) – read judgment

This judicial review concerned whether it was lawful for NHS clinical commissioning groups to adopt a policy for offering the drug Avastin to patients suffering from “wet” (or neo-vascular) age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  Avastin, although not licensed for ophthalmic use, at £28 per injection is significantly cheaper than the licensed alternatives (£816 and £551 respectively per injection). The Royal College of Ophthalmologists has estimated that the NHS-wide saving of switching to Avastin was at least £102 million p.a.

Bayer and Novartis (with their drugs licensed for AMD) therefore had considerable financial interests in setting aside this policy. They sought review of the commissioning groups’ policy.  The manufacturer of Avastin (Roche) was an interested party. The drug is widely used in other countries for neo-vascular AMD.  The General Medical Council had issued guidance saying that doctors could prescribe off-label medicines provided they were satisfied that there was sufficient evidence or experience of using the medicine to demonstrate its safety and efficacy.

There were essentially six issues before the court.

Whipple J dismissed the claim for judicial review.

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$8 billion lawsuits started on GDPR day

31 May 2018 by

You would have to be a monk or, at any rate, in an entirely internet-free zone, not to have had your recent days troubled by endless GDPR traffic. The tiniest charity holding your name and email address up to the data behemoths have asked, in different ways, for your consent for them to hold your personal data. You may have observed the frankness and simplicity of the former’s requests and the weaseliness of the latter’s, who try to make it rather difficult for you to say no, indeed to understand what precisely they are asking you to do.

Just in case you have not looked at it, here is the Regulation. It is actually a good deal easier to understand than a lot of the summaries of it.

This lack of transparency in these consent forms/privacy statements had not gone unnoticed by one of Europe’s more indefatigable privacy sleuths. Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer, who, at 30 years of age, has already been to the EU top court twice (see here and here), moved fast. By the end of GDPR day last Friday, 25 May, he sued global platforms with multibillion-euro complaints. 3 complaints said to be valued at €3.9 billion were filed in the early hours against Facebook and two subsidiaries, WhatsApp, and Instagram, via data regulators in Austria, Belgium and Germany. Another complaint valued at €3.7 billion was lodged with France’s CNIL in the case of Google’s Android operating system.

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A “festival of mendacity”; telling the truth no more than a “lifestyle choice”

25 May 2018 by

Rashid v. Munir et al, Turner J, High Court, Leeds, 22 May 2018 – read judgment here

I promise you that this post will be entirely GDPR-free, despite its date.

Judges go about saying people are lying in different ways, from the tip-toeing around the idea of deceit to the full-blooded blast. This judgment, and that from which it is an appeal, are towards the latter end of the spectrum.

I welcome this frankness; if you, a judge, think that someone is telling you a tissue of lies, then you should say so in terms.

Neither judge held back, as we shall see. Enjoy.

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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?

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Groundhog Day for air pollution breaches: Government loses again

23 February 2018 by


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth No.3) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 21 February 2018, judgment here 

DEFRA has been found wanting again, in its latest attempt to address nitrogen dioxide in air. This is the third time. Yet DEFRA’s own analysis suggests that some 23,500 people die every year because of this pollutant.

I have told the story in many posts before (see list at bottom), but the UK has been non-compliant with EU Directive 2008/50 on nitrogen dioxide (et al) since 2010. The Directive requires that the period in which a state is obliged to remedy any non-compliance is to be “as short as possible”: Article 23.

We have now had 3 Air Quality Plans, the first produced in 2011 and quashed in 2015, and the second produced later in 2015, declared unlawful by Garnham J in November 2016.

The third, in this judgment, was dragged out of DEFRA in July 2017, after various attempts to delay things.  

So why was it decided to be unlawful?

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Landmark A-G opinion: EU must respect right of self-determination of Western Sahara

14 January 2018 by

wsaharaR (o.t.a. Western Sahara Campaign UK) v. HMRC and DEFRA, Court of Justice of the European Union, opinion of Advocate-General Wathelet, 10 January 2018 – read here

The A-G has just invited the CJEU to conclude that an EU agreement with Morocco about fishing is invalid on international law grounds. His opinion rolls up deep issues about NGO standing, ability to rely on international law principles, justiciability, and standard of review, into one case. It also touches on deeply political, and foreign political, issues, and he is unapologetic about this.  That, he concludes, is a judge’s job, both at EU and international court level – if the issues are indeed legal.

The opinion is complex and I summarise it in the simplest terms. But here goes.

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