In this consultation announced this week, the Ministry of Justice is trying to get itself out of the multiple Aarhus problems facing UK justice. Infraction proceedings are threatened in the EU Court, and adverse conclusions were reached by Aarhus Compliance Committee; all much posted about on this blog, for which see below. The main problem is that the Aarhus Convention requires that environmental challenges not be “prohibitively expensive”, and everybody now appears to agree that the basic UK system of “loser pays the costs” does not achieve that objective without changes. So what does MoJ propose to do about it?
It says that costs protection should be provided via codification of the rules concerning Protective Costs Orders. That means that a claimant in any public interest case may ask the court for a PCO, to “cap” his liability to pay the other side’s costs to such a figure as does not deter him from bringing those proceedings. The boundaries of when a PCO can be ordered are much fought over – leading to more costs – but it certainly extends in principle to all public interest judicial review cases, not simply environmental ones. It is possible (at its very lowest) that PCOs can be made in public interest environmental challenges not involving judicial review, though there is not yet a decision either way on that.
Bahta & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors  EWCA Civ 895 – Read judgment
The general rule in civil law cases is that the loser pays the winner’s legal costs, even if the case settles before trial. As with all general rules, there are plenty of exceptions, and many relate to public authorities. Two of those exceptions have just been chipped away at by the Court of Appeal.
Two important judgments increasing the likelihood that local authorities will have to pay out costs emerged the usual last-minute glut before the court term ended on Friday. The first concerned costs in the Court of Protection when an authority has unlawfully deprived a person of their liberty. The second was about costs in immigration judicial review claims which had settled following consent orders.
Access to environmental justice is as topical asever. Delegates at the recent conference of the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association (UKELA), held in late June at UEA in Norwich (yards from the Climatic Research Unit much in the news) argued that the current regime in this country is unsatisfactory – because of the cost, but also, and less predictably, because of a lack of basic fairness.
One QC who specialises in planning law pointed to the fact that a developer who is dissatisfied with a planning decision can appeal it, but an affected third party (often a disgruntled resident) cannot. He commented off the record that in his experience both as an advocate and as a decision-maker, decisions were affected by the knowledge that developers could readily challenge refusals, whereas third parties could not challenge grants other than by way of judicial review.
As reported by Guardian.co.uk, Lady Hale, one of the 12 UK Supreme Court justices, has said in a speech to The Law Society that the government’s proposed reforms to legal aid will have a “disproportionate effect upon the poorest and most vulnerable in society“.
Although the current crop of senior judges has not been afraid to express opinions on controversial issues, it is unusual for a sitting senior judge to criticise current and controversial government plans. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has only just been published, and is being debated tomorrow in Parliament. The Guardian.co.uk article presents the comments as a “direct challenge” to the policy. However, upon a closer reading, Lady Hale cleverly steered clear of criticising the plans in her own words, but rather quoted the government’s own analysis of the bill.
The speech was entitled Equal Access to Justice in the Big Society, and was in memory of solicitor Henry Hodge, and can be downloaded in full here (PDF). It is also republished below the page break.
R (on the application of Evans) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 1146 (Admin) – Read judgment
The High Court has found that the Ministry of Justice, when making a decision to cease the state’s funding of judicial review challenges on purely public interest grounds (apart from one exception), took into account the fact that to do so would reduce the number of decisions being made which were not in the government’s interests. Unsurprisingly, the Court to concluded that the decision was unlawful and should be quashed.
The Applicant applied for judicial review of a decision by the Respondent to amend the Legal Services Commission (LSC) Funding Code, which funds litigation for those who meet certain criteria. The effect of the amendments, which were introduced in April 2010, was to prevent public funding by the LSC for judicial review proceedings (challenging decisions of public bodies) which were pure public interest challenges. That is, where the Applicant stood to gain nothing from the litigation and was bringing it solely to promote a particular public interest. The one exception was in environmental cases.
These types of proceedings can have human rights implications in two ways: Article 6, providing the right to a fair trial can be infringed upon by improper communicaton by jurors, and to a lesser extent, Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression may be engaged. As Article 10 includes a large number of circumstances where freedom of expression may be lawfully restricted, raising freedom of expression arguments to challenge the bringing of contempt proceedings would be very unlikely to succeed in these circumstances.
Iorworth HOARE v the United Kingdom – 16261/08  ECHR 722 (12 April 2011) – Read decision
Potential future US president Donald Trump once said that “Everything in life is luck“. Sometimes a case arises from such an unlikely factual scenario that it raises questions about the relationship between justice, fairness and luck. This is such a case.
Iorworth Hoare was convicted 1989 for attempted rape. He was a serial sex offender, so was sentenced to life imprisonment. As life in prison does not usually mean actual life in prison, he was released on 31 March 2005. In what could be considered a not quite minor reversal of Hoare’s deservedly poor fortune up to that point, in 2004, while on day release, he bought a National Lottery ticket, and won £7m. Home Office rules allowed prisoners in open conditions to play the lottery.
Biowatch Trust v Registrar Genetic Resources and Others (CCT 80/08)  ZACC 14 – read judgment
Costs again, I am afraid, and how to make sure that ordinary people can litigate important cases without being stifled by a huge costs bill if they lose.
I have a certain amount of “form” for it on this blog, but it is important stuff. It is worth seeing where we have got to, and measuring that progress against the response to the same problem from an avowedly constitutional court, that of South Africa.
The decision of the Supreme Court in Jones v Kaney (see earlier post by Rosalind English) removes the immunity previously enjoyed by those who have acted as experts from suit by their former clients. To understand the significance of the decision, a number of important points should be kept in mind.
The immunity from suit for damages for a former client in respect of the retained expert’s activity in a civil action was already a limited one. In Palmer v Durnford Ford,  QB 483, the High Court held that an expert witness was not immune from suit in respect of work done primarily for the purpose of advising the client.
Expert witnesses have, since the decision of the Court of Appeal in Meadow v General Medical Council  QB 462, been liable to disciplinary sanction in respect of their activity and evidence as experts in courts and tribunals. That flows from the public interest in the fitness to practice of the professional (particularly, but not only, a medical practitioner). Continue reading →
The Commission for Equality & Human Rights has been ordered to pay costs of court proceedings to two members and a former member of the British National Party. Although the decision is a technical one relating only to costs of proceedings, it highlights the financial risks which must be borne by those seeking to police and enforce compliance with the requirements of human rights law. Continue reading →
Its characterisation as an opt out or a mere “clarification” depends on where one stands on the eurosceptic/europhile spectrum. So where do we find a practical rather than an ideological answer to this important question? Certainly not in the political or academic record.
First, a reminder of what the Charter is all about. From the very early days of the European Community the Court of Justice (ECJ) has relied on fundamental principles of human rights as an interpretative tool, and the key provisions of the Charter are derived from the ECHR, which is uncontroversial enough. However a large number are drawn from the Community Social Charter 1989 and the Council of Europe’s Social Charter 1961. These are the so-called “social and economic rights” which appear to transform aspirational norms into judicially enforceable ones, like the right to work or healthcare. These “rights” are largely to be found in the “Solidarity Title” of the Charter, and it is to this part of the Treaty that the UK secured an opt out at the European Council in 2007. Continue reading →
G v E & Ors  EWHC 3385 (Fam) (21 December 2010) – Read judgment
Manchester City Council has been ordered to pay the full legal costs of a 20-year-old man with severe learning disabilities who was unlawfully removed from his long-term foster carer. The council demonstrated a “blatant disregard” for mental health law.
The case has wound an interesting route through the courts, with hearings in the Court of Protection, Court of Appeal, and also a successful application by the Press Association to reveal the identity of the offending local council in the interests of transparency. In August, Siobhain Butterworth wrote that the decision to name and shame the council was a “good” one which “marries the need for transparency in the treatment of vulnerable people with the right to a private life“.
Now, Mr Justice Baker has taken the unusual step of ordering that Manchester City Council pay all of E’s family’s legal costs. The general rule in the Court of Protection is that costs should not be awarded, but as the judge ruled it can be broken in certain circumstances:
MGN Limited v The United Kingdom – (Application no. 39401/04) Read judgment
The details of the Court’s ruling are set out in our previous post on this case. The following analysis focusses on the success of the newspapers’ core complaint concerning the recoverability against it of 100% success fees.
This judgment has serious practical implications not just for publication cases but for any civil case not covered by legal aid, and although the ruling is only binding on the government, not on the courts, the potential for its immediate domestic impact cannot be ignored. Defendants challenging costs orders will have this judgment at the head of their arsenal from today; the practical resonances of the case are imminent.
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.