Consultation again – this time for dentists

simple-consultation-y200British Dental Association v. General Dental Council [2014] UK EWHC 4311 (Admin) 56, Cranston J, 18 December 2014 – read judgment UPDATED

Philip Havers QC and Jeremy Hyam of 1COR were for the successful Claimants in this case. They had no part in the writing of this post.

The Supreme Court has very recently reviewed the law on consultation and unlawfulness in the Moseley case (read judgment, and my post here). The present case is a good illustration of those principles in practice.

Dentists have to be registered with the General Dental Council. The GDC regulate them and may bring proceedings against them if their fitness to practise is impaired. All that regulation has to be financed by annual fees, and the current challenge by the dentists’ trade union (BDA) was to a decision by the GDC to raise the annual fee to £890 per dentist.

As I shall explain, Cranston J decided that the consultation in advance of that decision was unfair and hence unlawful.

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Consultation duty gets to the Supreme Court

NL33293-039Moseley R (ota) v. London Borough of Haringey [2014] UK 56  – read judgment

Lord Wilson posed the question, answered today by the Supreme Court, with concision. When Parliament requires a local authority to consult interested persons before making a decision which would potentially affect all of its inhabitants, what are the ingredients of the requisite consultation?

The judgments reveal the surprising fact that the core principles of consultation (named after Gunning, as public lawyers will know) have never been approved by the Supreme Court or its predecessor, the House of Lords. The Court was happy to endorse them as embodiments of fairness. But it went on to consider the duty to consult on rejected alternatives – as very recently debated by the Court of Appeal in the Rusal case – see my post here.

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Consultation process not unfair after all, says Court of Appeal


Aluminum-Warehouse21United Company Rusal Plc (R, o.t.a of) v. London Metal Exchange Trust  [2014] EWCA 1271 (Civ) – read 
judgment

Deciding whether a given consultation process conducted prior to some administrative decision was or was not sufficiently unfair to warrant  challenge is not an easy task. Three connected problems commonly arise:

(1) did the public body provide adequate information to enable properly informed consultation 

(2) was the consultation at a formative stage of the decision-making process, so it was a real rather than sham process?

(3) did the consultation encompass sufficient alternatives?

In this case, the judge said (see my post here) that consultees were missing important information under (1), and, on the particular facts of the case ,it should have consulted on an option which it had rejected, and so found a breach of (3).

The Court of Appeal disagreed. Both findings were wrong. The consultation process was not unfair.

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Consultation – backing no horses, and the importance of interim relief

_69067404_daycentreprotestLH, R (o.t.a) v. Shropshire Council  [2014] 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.

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Backing just one horse in a consultation process can be unfair


Aluminum-Warehouse21United Company Rusal Plc (R, o.t.a of) v. London Metal Exchange Trust  [2014] EWHC 890 (Admin), Phillips J, 27 March 2014  – read 
judgment

Public law principles allow you to challenge a decision of a public authority if the consultation process preceding it was unfair. Unfairness comes in many shapes and sizes, but the commonest one alleged is that it was not carried out at the formative stage. The authority had already made up enough of its mind so the consultation process ceased to mean anything  – it was just going through the motions.

The law is equally clear that an authority does not have to consult on every conceivable option. Indeed it can just consult on its preferred option. 

But this decision shows that if it does so it has to be wary, because on the particular facts that may be unfair.

Enter our cast, challenger in the form of Rusal (proprietor one Oleg Deripaska), and the defendant, the London Metal Exchange.

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