Thinking about reasons again

_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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Time limits for the return of asylum seekers – did the clock stop ticking?

Time limits for the return of asylum seekers – did the clock stop ticking?

Analogue-clock-007Mucaj, Re Judicial Review, [2017] CSOH 17 – read judgment.

Asylum seeker’s claim that he cannot be returned to Belgium under the Dublin III Regulations due to non-compliance with time limits by authorities fails.

The petitioner in this case, Bahri Mucaj, was an Albanian that arrived in Belgium in November 2011. After unsuccessfully claiming asylum in Belgium, the petitioner entered the UK and sought asylum here in late December 2014. The petitioner then sent a “take back” request to Belgium under The Dublin III Regulations (“Dublin III” – available here) in order for the Belgian authorities to reconsider his original application. This request was accepted on 7 January 2015 by the Belgian authorities. Consequently, the Secretary of State refused to consider the petitioner’s asylum application due to the fact that there was the possibility to send the individual back to a “safe” country – Belgium. The petitioner then wrote to the Secretary of State alleging that sending him back to Belgium would result in violations of both Article 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This claim was based on the living conditions that they had endured whilst originally in Belgium and the likelihood that they would be subject to similar conditions on return. This claim was refused and removal directions were issued to return the petitioner and his family to Belgium. The petitioner subsequently challenged this removal decision.

As was her policy at the time, the Secretary of State cancelled her removal directions pending the court’s decision. At this point, in mid-2015, there were a number of similar Judicial Review requests concerning the return of asylum seekers to European countries under Dublin III and the potential violation of Article 3. Following the leading decision in AL v Advocate General for Scotland, [2015] CSOH 95, which found in favour of the respondents, the petitioner in the current proceedings made amendments to their arguments. Instead of pursuing substantive challenges to the removal decision based on human rights grounds, the petitioner argued that the authorities had not complied with the time limits for return in Dublin III.

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Defying convention: Supreme Court puts Sewel on the sidelines

unknownIn the new age of alternative facts, even Sean Spicer might struggle to spin Tuesday’s Supreme Court judgment as anything other than a comprehensive defeat for the government.

Yet, as my colleague Dominic Ruck Keene’s post alluded to, the ultimate political ramifications of Miller would have made the Article 50 process appreciably more turgid had the Justices accepted the various arguments relating to devolution.

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Aarhus Convention update: Government still ignoring private nuisance claims

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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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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Naming your Abusers

Image result for face question markArmes v Nottinghamshire County Council [2016] EWHC 2864 (QB) – read judgment

In a nutshell

The right of a claimant to name the people who abused her prevailed over the rights of the perpetrators and others to private and family life.

The claimant, Natasha Armes, applied to set aside an anonymity order granted at the start of a previous trial to protect the identities of witnesses accused of physically and sexually abusing her in foster care.

Mr Justice Males undertook the balancing exercise between the rights to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the right to freedom of expression under Article 10.

Freedom of expression won the day. Males J lifted the anonymity order, accepting that since most of the allegations had now been proven anonymity was no longer justified.
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Scottish prisoner successfully challenges decision refusing permission to own a laptop

Email on computer

Photo credit: The Guardian

Beggs, Re Judicial Review, [2016] CSOH 153 – read judgment.  

The refusal to allow a Scottish prisoner to purchase a laptop for use in prison has been successfully challenged in the Outer House of the Court of Session. However, the Outer House decision focussed on the flawed decision making process as opposed to the substantive conclusion reached by prison authorities.

Background

In 2001, the petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Whilst in prison, the petitioner, Mr Beggs, made a number of requests to be allowed to purchase a laptop. Mr Beggs intended for this laptop to be used to prepare responses to his lawyers in connection to a number of civil and criminal court actions in which he was involved. Additionally, Mr Beggs intended for the laptop to be used for educational purposes. However, each request made by Mr Beggs was refused.

This issue had been raised as early as 2002. The Scottish Prison Complaints Commissioner had stated that Mr Beggs “is a highly educated, intelligent man whose literacy is excellent”. The formal recommendations stemming from the Commissioner’s consideration of the matter was that Mr Beggs should be provided with a word processor and a printer to assist with his legal casework. However, no such access was forthcoming. As a result, Mr Beggs raised a first set of judicial review proceedings. Such proceedings were halted prior to the first hearing after the authorities agreed to provide computer facilities and a printer. This arrangement between Mr Beggs and the authorities at HMP Peterhead did not operate smoothly. Mr Beggs was allowed to access a communal laptop provided by the prison. However, another prisoner was often using this laptop. As a result, Mr Beggs made a request for permissions to have his own personal laptop.

Scottish Policy on personal laptops

The Governors and Managers Action Notices 84A of 1998 and 15A of 1999 (“GMA 1998” and “GMA 1999”) are the relevant policy documents covering prisoner ownership of computers/word processors. Under GMA 1998 there was a prohibition on prisoners in closed establishments from owning such devices (which would include laptops). However, GMA 1999 relaxed this position and allowed a prisoner to own a laptop in “exceptional cases” if “compelling reasons” had been shown. Additionally, there was the need to demonstrate that any security concerns could be adequately addressed.

This scheme for ownership of laptops operated separately from the various schemes allowing prisoners to access prison-owned laptops. The relevant protocol was most recently updated in March 2013. It only afforded prisoners access for legal work and required completion of a written application form. Access would not be provided unless the individual could show “real prejudice to his case” if access were restricted. Additionally, resources were limited as prisons only owned a certain number of laptops (which cost £1,000 to purchase). All in all, the scheme for accessing prison owned laptops was very restrictive and of little practical use.

Requests for a laptop

Mr Beggs initial request to the governor of HMP Peterhead was refused. Whilst recognising that “compelling circumstances” under GMA 1999 existed to depart from the general ban of laptops contained in GMA 1998, the governor refused the request due to the fact that the protocol for accessing communal computer equipment adequately met Mr Beggs’ needs.

Mr Beggs made a number of similar requests following this initial refusal. All requests were unsuccessful and often referenced the fact that the ability to access a communal laptop was sufficient.

In March 2014, having been moved to HMP Edinburgh, the petitioner made another request to be allowed a laptop. Again, he emphasised that a laptop was necessary to allow him manage the vast amount of legal documents that had amassed from various legal actions and also to allow him to further his academic interests. The governor of HMP Edinburgh refused this request. This time, Mr Beggs’ request was refused due to a failure to show that “exceptional circumstances” justifying the provision of a laptop existed as required under GMA 1999. The governor also noted that there were other individuals in the prison who were able to manage their cases without utilising a laptop.

It is this decision of March 2014 that the petitioner sought to have judicially reviewed.

Outer House Decision

Lord Malcolm began his decision by considering the relevant policy documents. As discussed above, GMA 1998 and 1999 established a system that required the individual to show “compelling circumstances” to justify departing from the general ban on prisoners in closed establishments owning laptops and that the relevant security concerns could be addressed. Lord Malcolm noted that only one individual had previously applied for a personal laptop, namely the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombings, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.  he had been allowed a laptop. Accordingly, it was clear that the relevant security concerns could be addressed.

Further, the existence of prison-owned laptops was irrelevant. The protocol allowing access to communal laptops existed independently of the scheme for personal laptops under GMA 1998 and 1999. The “very restrictive” prison laptop protocol could not be relied upon as a justification for refusing a personal laptop (despite the fact that such reasoning had been adopted by numerous decision makers in response to Mr Beggs’ previous requests prior to March 2014).

In considering the specific refusal reviewed by Mr Beggs, that of March 2014, Lord Malcolm noted that the governor of HMP Edinburgh merely stated that the petitioner’s circumstances were not “exceptional” and therefore there was no need to provide a personal laptop. But Lord Malcolm, whilst not explicitly disagreeing with the conclusion, empathised with Mr Beggs. Due to a number of factors, including the early positive response of the Scottish Prisons Complaints Commissioner, the undertaking agreed in the context of the first judicial review proceedings, and the initial decision of the governor of HMP Peterhead that “compelling circumstances” existed, Mr Beggs could reasonably expect his position to be considered “exceptional”. A decision that all of the above, amongst other considerations, did not amount to “compelling circumstances” should be be afforded “a more considered, detailed, and reasoned response than anything provided [to Mr Beggs] so far”.

As a result, Lord Malcolm reduced the decision of March 2014 and all subsequent decisions.

Comment

Ultimately, this decision of the Outer House relates purely to the decision making process adopted by the prison authorities. It’s easy to have sympathy with Mr Beggs. Despite previous assurances and, at first glance, clear “exceptional circumstances” he was repeatedly refused permission to buy his own personal laptop. These refusals included no reasons which effectively prevented Mr Beggs from being able to assess the height of the hurdle he had to clear in order to be successful.

The result of this judgment is that the governor of HMP Edinburgh will have to consider Mr Begg’s request afresh. In considering the substantive question of whether Mr Begg’s should be allowed a laptop there appears a number of factors in favour of granting permission. First, Mr Beggs has always offered to pay for the laptop himself. Instead of costing the authorities money, this would actually result in less reliance being placed on the limited number of communal laptops provided by the prison. Secondly, there is clearly no insurmountable issues regarding security; Mr al-Megrahi was provided a laptop, and numerous prisoners use communal laptops under the relevant protocol whilst in closed establishments. Finally, it may appear inconsistent to allow prisoners to enjoy Xboxes and PlayStations, which can also potentially access wifi and are explicitly permitted, whilst refusing to allow Mr Beggs to purchase a laptop for legal and educational purposes.