Together with anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to dominate the news. Two recently published reports have highlighted flaws in the government’s response in relation to the provision of social security and domestic abuse support during the crisis.
The Court of Appeal has just dismissed the actions in nuisance by residents of flats adjacent to the the Tate Modern art gallery on the south bank of the River Thames in central London. (Disclaimer: the author of this post has just moved into an apartment in the area but has no association with the flats or the residents central to this appeal.)
At the outset of this judgment, the Court observed that
the case, and this appeal, raise important issues about the application of the common law cause of action for private nuisance to overlooking from one property to another and the consequent invasion of privacy of those occupying the overlooked property.
The following discussion quotes from the Court’s own press report. References to paragraph numbers are in bold.
Sims v Dacorum Borough Council  UKSC 63 – read judgment 12 November 2014 and
R (ota ZH and CN) v. LB Newham et al  UKSC 62 – read judgment 12 November 2014
A brace of cases showing the limited role which Article 8 and Article 1 of the 1st Protocol has to play in housing law, so heavily regulated by a combination of statute and contract law. The human right protections conferred, as we shall see, are mainly procedural.
The contract and property issues are well illustrated by the case of Sims. Mr and Mrs Sims had lived in a council property, until Mrs Sims left, she said as a result of her husband’s violence. For her own housing reasons she sought termination of their periodic secure joint tenancy by unilateral notice. Her husband, as the other joint tenant still living in the property, maintained in response to possession proceedings that he was entitled to remain there as a sole tenant; anything else was inconsistent with his Article 8 and A1P1 rights.
Cotton and others, (R on the application of) v Minister for Work and Pensions and others, 15 October 2014  EWHC 3437 (Admin) – read judgment
Whether you call it the “spare room subsidy” or the “bedroom tax”, the removal of this type of housing benefit has been nothing short of controversial. There have been several previous legal challenges to the Regulations, as well as to the benefit cap introduced as part of the same package of welfare changes. The outcome of these cases was not promising for these claimants, in particular the decision of the Court of Appeal in R (MA) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions  EWCA Civ 13. Another important case is R (SG (previously JS)) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions  EWCA Civ 156.
Now the High Court has settled one aspect of the matter by ruling that these amendments did not breach the rights of singe parents under Article 8 ECHR who looked after their children under shared care arrangements where they received discretionary housing payments to make up the shortfall. Continue reading →
Karia, R (on the application of) v Leicester City Council (Sir Stephen Silber, acting as High Court Judge)  EWHC 3105 (Admin) (30 September 2014)- read judgment
In a robust judgment Sir Stephen Silber has asserted that neither the ordinary laws of judicial review, nor the Equality Act nor the Human Rights Act require the courts to micro-manage the decisions of public authorities. Indeed the latter two statutory powers are not designed as a back door into a merits review of a decision that is restricted to the court’s review of the legality of a public sector decision.
Background facts and law
The claimant, a 101 year old woman of Gujarati descent, challenged the decision to close the care home which she has occupied since 1999. Her grounds of challenge were threefold:
1. that the Council had failed to take account of material issues of fact relating to the present and future levels of demand for residential care one provision
2. that it had reached its decision without due regard to the need under the Equality Act 2010 to avoid unlawful discrimination in the provision of services
3. and it had failed to take into account the impact of the closure on the claimant’s Article 8 rights
She also complained that she had a legitimate expectation of a home for life at Herrick Lodge and that the Council had not considered whether her needs could be met in alternative placements.
Although the judge was at pains to stress that as this was a judicial review application, it was not for him to assess the merits of the Council’s decision, merely its legality. Having done so, he concluded that the Council had not acted irrationally, nor had it paid due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity.
It is not for the Court to determine whether proper weight has been given to a factor where as here there has been proper appreciation of the potential impact of the decision on equality issues.
Rutherford and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 1613 (Admin) – Read judgement here.
At the end of May, the High Court ruled that the reduction in Housing Benefit under Regulation B13 of Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations – commonly dubbed “the bedroom tax” –did not unlawfully discriminate against a family with a disabled child requiring an additional bedroom for overnight careers because the shortfall was covered by discretionary housing payments.
The case involved three Claimants: Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their 14-year-old grandson Warren. Warren suffers from a profound disability requiring 24-hour care from at least two people. Mr and Mrs Rutherford need the assistance of two paid careers for two nights a week. The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow rented from a housing association and specifically adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Mr and Mrs Rutherford sleep in one room, Warren in another, and a third room is used as a bedroom for overnight carers and to store medical equipment.
LH, R (o.t.a) v. Shropshire Council  EWCA 404 (Civ), Court of Appeal, 4 April 2014 – read judgment
Good advertisement for the flexibility of the common law, this case. This is because the duty to consult owed by a public body extends into all reaches of public law, from the regulation of a metal trading company (see my recent post here) to care centres and residential homes. Indeed it was in the context of residential home closures that the modern law got worked out. In the 1992 case of ex parte Baker, there had been a draft community care plan which had made no reference to the closure of individual homes, and which was followed up by a bolt from the blue – residents of one home only had 5 days’ notice that their home was to close.
In none of these cases is there a statutory duty to consult – it is an aspect of common law fairness.
The LH case concerns the closure of an adult care day centre. The question in LH was how to apply the principles in Baker to a rather more nuanced consultation approach, where closure of day centres in general was raised in consultation, but the closure of the specific day centre (Hartleys) was not.
Trafford v Blackpool Borough Council  EWHC 85 – read judgment
The High Court has held that a local authority had abused its powers by refusing to offer a solicitor a new lease of the claimant’s office premises.
The claimant solicitor was aggrieved by the fact that the stated reason for the defendant’s refusal was that her firm had brought claims against the Council on behalf of clients seeking compensation for injuries alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the Council, predominantly in highways “tripping” type claims.
HHJ Davies held that the Council had exercised its “wide discretion” under Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1912 for an improper purpose and was “fundamentally tainted by illegality” on that basis. The Council’s refusal was both Wednesbury unreasonable and procedurally unfair.
Public versus private
The interesting question central to this case was whether or not a public body, acting under statutory powers in deciding whether or not to renew or terminate a contract, was acting under public law duties, and therefore amenable to judicial review, or whether the relationship between the claimant and the defendant was one governed exclusively by private law, where judicial review has no part to play . Continue reading →
This week’s newspapers have highlighted the plight of the thousands of British homeowners who face demolition orders over their Spanish properties because they have been built without proper planning permission. Permits granted by town mayors during the property boom turn out not to be worth the paper they were written on, and since the regional authorities have overturned most of these permits, the buildings are condemned to destruction. Compensation from the developers and public officials who made these transactions possible is not forthcoming; as the Times leader points out
In a few cases, the courts have ordered that developers or town halls should compensate those who have lost their homes. Yet the former invariably opt for bankruptcy, instead, and even the latter seem markedly reluctant to pay out. Owners, often now back in Britain, face daunting and bewildering battles in foreign courts. (Tuesday 29 October, behind paywall)
Lanner Parish Council (R ota) v. the Cornwall Council  EWCA Civ 1290 read judgment
This planning judicial review tackles the problem posed by an authority who says one thing in its formal reasons granting planning permission, and another thing in the court proceedings when the grant is challenged.
Coastline wanted to construct 25 affordable dwellings in Lanner. The Parish in Lanner objected, on the basis that 25 was too many. It referred to a local planning policy (H20) which said that there should be no more than “about 12” houses on any new development in a large village such as Lanner.
The planning officer supported the grant of planning permission, and the Council agreed. The Council’s reasons for grant said that the proposal “accords with” policy H20. But it didn’t, because the policy referred to 12 houses, and the proposal was for 25 houses, and this error in the reasons was one of the Parish’s main points on the judicial review.
MA and others (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors  EWHC 2213 (QB) (30 July 2013) – read judgment
The High Court has unanimously dismissed an application for a declaration that the so-called “bedroom tax” discriminates unlawfully against disabled claimants.
This was a challenge by way of judicial review to regulations that came into force last year, reducing the amount of housing benefits by reference to the number of bedrooms permitted by the relevant statute (the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 ). These new rules, which have applied to claimants of housing benefit since April 2013, restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. Discretionary housing payments are available for certain qualifying individuals to mitigate the effect of the new rules, in particular the effects on disabled people and those with foster caring responsibilities. Continue reading →
Malik v Fassenfelt and others  EWCA Civ 798 – read judgment
A common law rule that the court had no jurisdiction to extend time to a trespasser could no longer stand against the Article 8 requirement that a trespasser be given some time before being required to vacate:
The idea that an Englishman’s home is his castle is firmly embedded in English folklore and it finds its counterpart in the common law of the realm which provides a remedy to enable the owner of the castle to secure the eviction of trespassers from it. But what if the invaders occupy for long enough to establish their home within the keep? Whose castle is it now? Whose home must the law now protect?
This was the question before the Court of Appeal in a challenge to a possession order requiring the removal of squatters from private land.
Although there is now some doubt as to whether the leading authority on landowners’ rights against squatters is still good law, Article 8 still does not entitle a trespasser to stay on the land for ever. At its highest it does no more than give the trespasser an entitlement to more time to arrange his affairs and move out.
Lane v Kensington & Chelsea Royal London Borough Council (19 April 2013) – extempore judgement by Sir Raymond Jack QBD
In Italo Calvino’s charming short story “The Baron in the Trees” the twelve year old son of an aristocratic family escapes the stultifications of home decorum by climbing up a tree, never to come down again. He literally makes his home in the treetops of his vast family estate.
So perhaps we shouldn’t quarrel with the inclusion of a tree as part of the concept of home life for the purposes of Article 8. The further twist is that the felling of this particular tree took place on a property where the appellant lived without a tenancy. Nevertheless, this event still amounted to a potential interference with his right to a home under Article 8. Continue reading →
Randy Northrop is a Californian and a wanderer in spirit. He lives with his family aboard MY Cannis – see the pic. He got fed up of “living in a grotty council house in a rough area” of Bristol, so bought and renovated this former Thames tug. And nice inside it sounds too – two open fireplaces, several flat screen TVs, a music room and grand piano.
He spent 8 years moored in Bristol, but the “authorities there aren’t too keen on “live-aboards.”” So he moved on and in 2008 ended up in North Devon moored off Chivenor.
How then did he have the misfortune to stray into one of the backwaters of the law – the law of council tax? Because, after featuring in the local paper, he made a generous offer “as a gesture of good citizenship” to pay some “voluntary” council tax. And instead of the authorities saying “how kind, than you very much” he got a “statement” saying that he was Band A – “fait accompli” as he rightly observed. But a po-faced response which did not indeed endear itself to Randy. Hence this challenge by him to the authorities’ decision.
Sounds a bit dry? Not at all. In the witty and elegant prose of Sir Alan Ward, even rating law is made interesting – and the retired Lord Justice pokes fun at the pompous verbiage you have to wade through to answer the question – do you have to pay council tax on a moored boat?
Moore v British Waterways Board  EWCA Civ 73 – read judgment
A boat owner has won his appeal against the British Waterways Board preventing him from mooring his boats alongside his land on a tidal stretch of the Grand Canal. Although he had no common law right to permanently moor the boats, he had committed no actionable wrong in doing so, and they were therefore not moored “without lawful authority” within the meaning of the British Waterways Act 1983. This judgment is an interesting and important endorsement of the principle in English law that everything is permitted except what is expressly forbidden.
This key “rule of law” principle applies as much to the BWB as it does to the police and other law enforcement agencies. Continue reading →
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