the repeated detention of the claimants – foreign nationals with limited leave to remain – when they returned to the UK from travelling abroad, so that they could be questioned about their NHS debts, was unlawful;
the policy pursuant to which the claimants were detained (the “Policy”) was unlawful because it contained a positive statement of law which was wrong or, alternatively, because it failed to provide a full account of the legal position;
the Policy was unlawful because it was unpublished; and
the Secretary of State for the Home Department (“SSHD”) was in breach of the public sector equality duty (“PSED”) under s.149 of the Equality Act 2010.
In reality, the facts carried the day. This was true not only in relation to the unlawful detention issue, but also on some other points – for example, the SSHD failed to evidence any public interest in not publishing the Policy or any consideration given to the equality impacts of the exercise of the relevant powers of detention. Insofar as there are lessons to be learned, they are likely to be found in the criticisms levelled at the evidence (or lack thereof) provided by the SSHD.
The judgment sets out the approach which is to be taken where the government declares itself to be acting in accordance with the UK’s obligations under an unincorporated international treaty. The Court of Appeal also considered the well-established duty that a decision-maker must “ask himself the right question and take reasonable steps to acquaint himself with the relevant information to enable him to answer it correctly” (Secretary of State for Education and Science v Metropolitan Borough of Tameside  AC 1014 at 1065, known as the “Tameside duty”). Put briefly, the Court of Appeal held that:
the question of whether funding the Project was consistent with the UK’s international obligations under the Paris Agreement was accepted by the parties to be justiciable;
however, the Paris Agreement, as an unincorporated international treaty, did not give rise to domestic legal obligations;
having decided to have regard to the Paris Agreement, the respondents did not need to be right that funding the Project was consistent with it, so long as that view was “tenable”; and
failing to quantify the indirect greenhouse gas emissions from the downstream distribution, storage and use of the gas produced (known as “Scope 3” emissions) – which would undoubtedly be by far the greatest part of the emissions caused by the Project – before deciding to finance the Project, was not a breach of the Tameside duty.
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.