Supreme Court says Welsh NHS charges Bill in breach of A1P1

Asbestos-588x340Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill: reference by Counsel General for Wales [2015] UKSC 3, 9 February 2015 – read judgment here

Sounds like a rather abstruse case, but the Supreme Court has had some important things to say about how the courts should approach an argument that Article 1 of Protocol 1 to ECHR (the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions) is breached by a legislative decision. The clash is always between public benefit and private impairment, and this is a good example. 

The Welsh Bill in issue seeks to fix those responsible for compensating asbestos victims (say, employers) with a liability to pay the costs incurred by the Welsh NHS in treating those victims. It also places the liability to make such payments on the insurers of those employers.

In short, the Supreme Court found the Bill to be in breach of A1P1, as well as lying outside the legislative competence of the Welsh Assembly.  Let’s see how they got there, and compare the conclusion with the failed A1P1 challenge brought in the AXA case (see [2011] UKSC 46, and my post here) concerning Scottish legislative changes about respiratory disease.
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Supreme Court revises confiscation order via A1P1

_41773060_mtic_carousel416x302R v Ahmad and others [2014] UKSC 36, 18 June 2014 – read judgment

A bit of a familiar refrain in which A1P1, the right to property, comes in and stops an order being made which would otherwise be lawful under statute: see my recent post here on the Eastenders case.

The case concerns confiscation proceedings following the conviction of two sets of defendants for carousel fraud.  A carousel fraud involves setting up a whole series of paper transactions to generate an apparent entitlement to reclaim VAT from the tax man: see the pic for an example. The VAT is repaid, at which point the money, and the fraudsters, disappear into the dust. But in these cases, they were found, prosecuted and confiscation orders made against the individuals to try and get the money back.

In the first case, the Ahmad defendants ran a company MST, and took £12.6m (£16.1m uprated for inflation) off the taxman. In the second, the Fields defendants got £1.6m (including inflation) via their company, MDL.

In each case, the order was made in those sums against each individual defendant. So each Ahmad defendant was ordered to pay £16.1m, even if some of that £16.1m was thereafter repaid by another defendant. It was this element of the order which the Supreme Court revised.

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Eastenders in Supreme Court: A1P1 filling in the gaps


EastEnders_TitleBarnes v. The Eastenders Group [2014] UKSC 26 read judgment

Not Albert Square, but it could be. The Crown Prosecution Service suspect two individuals of a massive duty/VAT fraud in their cash and carry businesses. The CPS go to the Crown Court (in the absence of the individuals) and get an order to appoint a receiver (i.e. a paid manager) to run the affairs of companies (Eastenders) in which the individuals are involved, as well as a restraint order against the individuals. Both receivership and restraint orders are set aside some months later by the Court of Appeal, on the basis that the HMRC investigator’s statements were largely “broad and unsupported assertions”. Problem: by then the receiver had run up £772,547 in fees.

Simple issue. Who bears those fees? The receiver, the CPS or the companies against whom the order was made? And A1P1 (the right to possessions) made the difference.

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Transforming Strasbourg’s A1P1 right to property?

private-property“Transforming the right to property” is the title of an interesting and controversial recent post (17 July 2013) on the Strasbourg Observers blog by Laurens Lavrysen.  He declares his position up front: 

“Reading Strasbourg case-law on a systematic basis, I always feel uncomfortable when I see the Court’s expansive protection in the field of Article 1 Protocol 1. Basically, that is because I don’t really like the idea of a human right to property for a number of reasons.”

These reasons can be summarised as (i) the right assumes the current distribution of wealth, and thus protects that status quo; (ii) the right can amount itself to a violation of other human rights – slavery being the most egregious example, though Lavrysen asserts more controversially the fact that intellectual property rights may restrict access to medicines affecting the right to health (iii) the right does not distinguish between the types of property its protects

thereby principally placing the poor man’s means of subsistence on the same footing as the millionaire’s yacht.

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Sea fishing, quotas and A1P1: “no-one owns the sea”

carouselThe UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations v. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Cranston J,  10 July 2013  read judgment 

Interesting alignment of parties in this challenge to Defra’s new system of allocating fish quota brought by an industry body (UKAFPO), in practice representing the larger fishing fleet – vessels over 10 metres in length –  Defra was supported by Greenpeace (how often does that happen?), and by the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association. And this was because Defra had transferred some fishing quota from the larger to the smaller fishing fleet, namely those under 10 metres in length who fish inshore waters.

The first claim was that UKAFPO had a substantive legitimate expectation in their favour which was unlawfully frustrated by Defra’s change of policy. The second was that there was a breach of Article 1 of Protocol 1 (A1P1) of ECHR, or its EU analogue, Article 17 of the Charter. The third was that UKAFPO was being discriminated against unlawfully – comparable situations must not be treated differently under EU law, and only English fishermen who were members of English fish producers organisations were affected.

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The right to be on the beach again – A1P1 and retrospectivity

Westbeach4The Queen (on the application of Newhaven Port and Properties Limited) v East Sussex County Council and Newhaven Town Council (Interested Party)  [2013] EWCA Civ 673, 276, 14 June 2013 read judgment 

This case came before the Court of Appeal earlier this year (read judgment of April 2013, and Rosalind English’s earlier post giving the background), when the landowner Port’s attempts to exclude members of the public from West Beach, Newhaven were unsuccessful. They were defeated by the beach being registered as a “village green” – improbable though that description may sound to those not versed in this arcane bit of the law. The lawfulness of this registration in turn depended on it being established that members of the public had used the beach for at least 20 years “as of right” – i.e. “without force, without stealth and without permission” – an age-old lawyers’ mantra that has mercifully been translated from the original Latin in recent times.

But the earlier hearing before the CA left over for determination one issue, the Port’s contention that they had been deprived of property rights in breach of Article 1 of Protocol 1 (A1P1) of ECHR, because of a retrospective change of the law adverse to them. This is what last week’s decision is about.

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Strasbourg rules that excessive tax rates offend A1P1

income taxN.K.M v. Hungary, ECtHR, 14 May 2013, read judgment

Those of a certain age will remember when top tax rates in the UK were 98%. This was the marginal rate of tax in this successful claim that such taxation offended Article 1 of the 1st Protocol (A1P1) – the peaceful enjoyment of possessions. But the very wealthy seeking to safeguard their bankers bonuses may not obtain too much comfort from the Strasbourg ruling, as the facts were fairly extraordinary.

The applicant had been a Hungarian civil servant for 30 years until her dismissal (with many others) in July 2011. Long-standing rules gave her 8 months severance pay. The 98% tax rate was introduced in 2010; it was then successfully challenged in the Hungarian Constitutional Court. On the day of the Court’s adverse judgment, the tax was re-enacted, but this time the 98% rate was applied to pay exceeding 3.5m forints – c. £10,000 – and, further, only where the earnings came out of specified categories of public sector employees.

A fresh challenge in the Constitutional Court annulled the retrospective effect of this law, but could not as a matter of jurisdiction review the substantive aspects of the tax. So the applicant went to Strasbourg to challenge the tax when deducted from her pay.

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