Media By: David Hart QC


Purdah: Government should obey the law in the run-up to an election

16 May 2017 by

NO2_Pic

R (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 27 April 2017, judgment here

Last November (here) the judge decided that the UK’s air pollution plans under EU and domestic laws were not good enough.  The case has a long, and unedifying back-story of Government not doing what the law says it should do – see the depressing list of posts at the bottom of this post.

The pollutant was nitrogen dioxide, a product of vehicle exhaust fumes. And as the judge reminded us in this latest instalment, the Department for Transport’s own evidence suggests that 64 people are dying everyday as a result of this pollutant.

The particular issue might seem legally unpromising. Government wanted to delay the publication of its latest consultation proposal from 24 April 2017 (the date ordered by the judge last November) until after the Council elections on 4 May, and, then, once the general election had been called, until after 8 June 2017. It accepted that it had its report drafted, but did not want to release it.

But the only justification for the delay was Purdah.

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Supreme and Strasbourg Courts square off on Art. 6 and housing

10 May 2017 by

Poshteh v Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea S [2017] UKSC 36, 10 May 2017 – read judgment 

For the last 15 years, whether the right of the homeless to suitable council accommodation is an Art.6(1) ECHR civil right has been argued over in the courts.  And the question arose again in today’s judgment of the Supreme Court.

Ms Poshteh had been imprisoned and tortured in Iran, and asked her local council in London to house her as she was homeless in the UK. She then rejected the offer of a flat because she said its windows reminded her of those in her Iranian prison cell. This rejection was held fatal to her housing claim, as we shall see.

To understand the Art.6 point, we need to have a quick look at the council’s housing duties for the homeless.

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Coroner’s conundrums: born alive or still-birth, and mother’s anonymity

6 May 2017 by

R (o.t.a T)  v. HM Senior Coroner for West Yorkshire [2017] EWCA 187 (Civ), 28 April 2017 read judgment

A sad story of human frailty posed two difficult problems for the Coroner, and the Court of Appeal.

A 19-year old mother went into hospital, with a shoebox. In the shoebox was the 6-days dead body of her daughter. She told the hospital and the police that she had been raped, hence the shame about reporting the death. She had given birth in her bedroom at home, and she said that the baby had been cold when born.
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The right to put your past behind you: Court of Appeal Art.8 ruling

4 May 2017 by

R (o.t.a P & others) v. Secretary of State for Home Department & others [2017] EWCA Civ 321, Court of Appeal, 3 May 2017 – read judgment 

The Court of Appeal has upheld challenges to the system of the police retaining information about past misconduct. It held that the system, even after a re-boot in 2013 in response to an earlier successful challenge, remains non-compliant with Article 8

The  problem is well summarised by Leveson P in the first paragraph of the judgment, namely the interface between a system of rehabilitation of offenders and the minimisation of risk to the public caused by the employment of those with misconduct in their pasts.

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Is Strasbourg law the law of England and Wales?

30 March 2017 by


R (o.t.a Minton Morrill Solicitors) v. The Lord Chancellor [2017] EWHC 612 (Admin)  24 March 2017, Kerr J – read judgment 

This exam-style question arose, in an attempt by solicitors to be paid by the Legal Aid Agency for some work they had done on two applications to Strasbourg. The underlying cases were housing, the first an attempt to stave off possession proceedings, and the second the determination of whether an offer of “bricks and mortar” accommodation to an Irish traveller was one of “suitable accommodation”. Both applications were declared inadmissible by the European Court of Human Rights, and thus could not benefit from that Court’s own legal aid system.

The major question turned on whether the Human Rights Act had “incorporated” the Convention. We all use this as a shorthand, but is it really so?

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Access to environmental justice

17 March 2017 by

On Monday 13 March, I went along to the latest Castle Debate, held in conjunction with the Environmental Law Foundation: see here for more of the same, all free debates, and fascinating topics for anyone interested in environmental law and policy.

It, and Tom Brenan’s talk in particular, reminded me that, despite it being not long after my last Aarhus post (on private law proceedings, here), it was time to set out the latest rules governing judicial reviews, which came into operation on 28 February. The bone of contention, as ever, is the concept that challenging environmental decisions should not be prohibitively expensive.  

Until last month, the rules were relatively simple, and were designed, for better or for worse, to minimise the amounts of arguments about costs in environmental challenges. If you were an individual, £5,000 capped the costs which you would have to pay the other side if you lost.

But Government had become obsessed that environmental challengers were somehow getting a free lunch, and the rules have now been spun into something so complicated that defendants who want to burn off claimants before the claim gets heard have been given a pretty broad licence to do so. For most individuals, committing yourself to paying £5,000 if you lose is a pretty sharp deterrent. But Government does not think so. 

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Canals and Article 8 – again

10 March 2017 by

Jones v. Canal & River Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 135 – 7 March 2017 – read judgment

In recent years, the Courts have come up with a pragmatic resolution to the clash of property and Article 8 rights which typically occur in housing cases. Where the tenant is trying to use Art.8 to fend off a possession order, because he is in breach of some term of the tenancy, then the Courts, here and in Strasbourg, have resolved the issue in the favour of the local authority, save in exceptional circumstances.

But the current case of a canal boat owner raises a rather different balance of rights and interests – which is why the Court of Appeal evidently found the issue a difficult one to decide.

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Thinking about reasons again

21 February 2017 by

_70626907_792ccfc-arielsiteplan2R (o.t.a. Oakley) v. South Cambridgeshire District Council [2017] EWCA Civ 71, 15 February 2017, read judgment

There is, I am glad to say, an insistence these days in the Court of Appeal that the giving of proper reasons is a necessary part of what can be expected of a planning authority when it grants permission: see my post here for a case last year.

And the current case is another good example. The CA, reversing Jay J, decided that the planning authority had acted unlawfully in not giving reasons in this case.


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Aarhus Convention update: Government still ignoring private nuisance claims

26 January 2017 by

F_AarhusConventionIn November 2016, the Government responded in rather disappointing terms (here) to a consultation about amending its costs rules in civil cases to reflect the requirements of the Aarhus Convention.

Article 9 of this Convention says that members of the public should be able to challenge environmental decisions, and the procedures for doing so shall be adequate and effective and “not prohibitively expensive. Aarhus starters may want to have a look at my bluffers guide to Aarhus – here.

First, the limited bit of good news in the governmental response.

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Free Trade Agreements and the White House – where are we now?

23 January 2017 by

ceta_signing_qtp_848x480_796869187661Trump’s inauguration seems not a bad moment to be having a look at the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs, actual or potential) which are swirling around at the moment, and their likely reception in the changed world which we face.

First on the list, our own tried, tested, and found electorally wanting, EU Treaties. They are FTAs, but with lots of knobs on – free movement of people, of establishment, level playing fields about employment rights, the environment and consumer protection, to name but a few.

The first thing to say is that FTAs, wherever they are, don’t come all that unencumbered these days.
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Why EU law will not make the trains run on time

21 December 2016 by

pay-southern-rail-train-strikeGovia GTR Railway Ltd v. ASLEF [2016] EWCA Civ 1309, 20 December 2016 – read judgment 

As all domestic readers know, there is a long running industrial dispute between Southern Rail and ASLEF, the train drivers’ union. The issue : DOOP  – Driver Only Operated Passenger – Trains. The company says they are perfectly safe, have been used extensively, and there will be no job losses. It claims over 600,000 journeys are being affected per day. The union strongly disputes that the new system of door closing is as safe as the old for passengers, and says that the new system is very stressful for drivers. 

Under domestic law, there appears to be no doubt that the strike action is lawful. In the time-honoured phrase, it is in furtherance and contemplation of a trade dispute, and the company accepted that a proper and lawful strike ballot was held – with a 75% turnout of members of whom 90% favoured the strike.

But the company argued that strike action was in breach of EU law, and hence it was entitled to an interlocutory injunction preventing the strike pending trial.

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

23 November 2016 by


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

3 November 2016 by


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

1 November 2016 by

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

30 October 2016 by

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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