Faulks Review Of Administrative Law: Call For Evidence

In my 15 August 2020 blog post, Introducing The Planning Court Case Explorer, I referred to the independent review of administrative law chaired by Lord Faulks, that the Government has commissioned. The review has now published, quietly it must be said, a call for evidence on 7 September 2020, with a deadline for responses of noon on 19 October 2020 (to be emailed to IRAL@justice.gov.uk).

The examination question that the review has been given by the Government is this:

“Does judicial review strike the right balance between enabling citizens to challenge the lawfulness of government action and allowing the executive and local authorities to carry on the business of government?”

The review is politically charged. The Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto said this:

“After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays. In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.”

Lord Faulks’ standpoint is well-documented.

I suspect their focus will be on the, inevitably politicised, constitutional law litigation that we saw last year. That is an issue which is above this blog’s pay grade, but as a planning lawyer I’m concerned that any reform to administrative law may be to the detriment of the role of the Planning Court in relation to disputes arising under our planning system. And as we begin to move to a new system, the Planning Court will have a crucial role in joining the dots given the inevitable uncertainties that will arise. We need that process to be fast, efficient and, above all, trusted. The oversight of the process by the courts is a vital element in ensuring that our system continues to comply with, for example, the requirements of the Aarhus Convention and of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (and if anyone suggests that these things don’t matter, just wait till their property is compulsorily acquired without justification, or a dodgy planning permission is issued without any proper remedy in the courts).

I just read again the House of Lords rulings in the Alconbury cases (9 May 2001), which concerned the question as to whether various aspects of the planning system as it was at that time met the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, at that point having recently been incorporated into UK law by way of the Human Rights Act 1998. The House of Lords concluded that the system complied with the Convention, but on the basis that an essential element of that system was the supervisory role of the courts in reviewing the lawfulness and rationality of administrative decisions taken in the process.

My nervousness as to where we may eventually end up is accentuated by the current furore over clause 45 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 15 September.

Imagine if the next Town and Country Planning Act rendered non-justiciable any regulations made under that Act? How convenient for a Government keen to proceed fast by way of secondary legislation and no doubt unhappy with the inevitable challenges it faces along the way (of which the Rights Community Action judicial review covered in last week’s blog post is a classic example).

Or if procedural failures in relation to decisions led to a rap over the knuckles for the authority rather than an undoing of what was done outside its powers?

Or if judicial review were codified in statute in such a way as to close out challenges to rationality or challenges on grounds such as bias, or legitimate expectation?

Of course, I hope that all of this is unlikely. I have some residual faith that there remains a basic understanding of the importance of the rule of law. I was pleased to see on Friday that the British Property Federation is canvassing its members in reaction to the call for evidence and I hope that other industry bodies do the same. After all, business needs predictability and to know that it is to be treated fairly – this is not just the domain of campaigners and communities!

If you have specific experiences of the role of judicial review in relation to the planning system, please do consider responding to that call for evidence.

As with any examination questions, do read the initial rubric first:

“The Independent Review of Administrative Law (IRAL) panel invites the submission of evidence on how well or effectively judicial review balances the legitimate interest in citizens being able to challenge the lawfulness of executive action with the role of the executive in carrying on the business of government, both locally and centrally. The panel is particularly interested in any notable trends in judicial review over the last thirty to forty years. Specifically, the panel is interested in understanding whether the balance struck is the same now as it was before, and whether it should be struck differently going forward.

The panel would like to hear from people who have direct experience in judicial review cases, including those who provide services to claimants and defendants involved in such cases, from professionals who practice in this area of law; as well as from observers of, and commentators on, the process. The panel are particularly interested in receiving evidence around any observed trends in judicial review, how judicial review works in practice and the impact and effectiveness of judicial rulings in resolving the issues raised by judicial review.”

So, what matters is direct experiences, evidence and data rather than rhetoric.

These are the specific areas which the review will be considering:

“• Whether the amenability of public law decisions to judicial review by the courts and the grounds of public law illegality should be codified in statute.

• Whether the legal principle of non-justiciability requires clarification and, if so, the identity of subjects/areas where the issue of the justiciability/non-justiciability of the exercise of a public law power and/or function could be considered by the Government.

• Whether, where the exercise of a public law power should be justiciable: (i) on which grounds the courts should be able to find a decision to be unlawful; (ii) whether those grounds should depend on the nature and subject matter of the power and (iii) the remedies available in respect of the various grounds on which a decision may be declared unlawful.

• Whether procedural reforms to judicial review are necessary, in general to “streamline the process”, and, in particular: (a) on the burden and effect of disclosure in particular in relation to “policy decisions” in Government; (b) in relation to the duty of candour, particularly as it affects Government; (c) on possible amendments to the law of standing; (d) on time limits for bringing claims, (e) on the principles on which relief is granted in claims for judicial review, (f) on rights of appeal, including on the issue of permission to bring JR proceedings and; (g) on costs and interveners.”

The call for evidence starts with a questionnaire for “Government Departments” (but which I would suggest is equally relevant for local authorities):

“1. In your experience, and making full allowance for the importance of maintaining the rule of law, do any of the following aspects of judicial review seriously impede the proper or effective discharge of central or local governmental functions? If so, could you explain why, providing as much evidence as you can in support?

a. judicial review for mistake of law

b. judicial review for mistake of fact

c. judicial review for some kind of procedural impropriety (such as bias, a

failure to consult, or failure to give someone a hearing)

d. judicial review for disappointing someone’s legitimate expectations

e. judicial review for Wednesbury unreasonableness

f. judicial review on the ground that irrelevant considerations have been taken into account or that relevant considerations have not been taken into account

g. any other ground of judicial review

h. the remedies that are available when an application for judicial review is successful

i. rules on who may make an application for judicial review

j. rules on the time limits within which an application for judicial review must be made

k. the time it takes to mount defences to applications for judicial review

2. In relation to your decision making, does the prospect of being judicially reviewed improve your ability to make decisions? If it does not, does it result in compromises which reduce the effectiveness of decisions? How do the costs (actual or potential) of judicial review impact decisions?

3. Are there any other concerns about the impact of the law on judicial review on the functioning of government (both local and central) that are not covered in your answer to the previous question, and that you would like to bring to the Panel’s attention?”

No doubt the responses to these questions, from those inevitably on the receiving end of judicial review, will point to the delays and uncertainty caused by legal challenges, but of course that is only one side of the story, which is why it is so important that there are responses from a wide section of business and society to the main questions which I set out below:

“1. Are there any comments you would like to make, in response to the questions asked in the above questionnaire for government departments and other public bodies?

2. In light of the IRAL’s terms of reference, are there any improvements to the law on judicial review that you can suggest making that are not covered in your response to question (1)?

Section 2 – Codification and Clarity

3. Is there a case for statutory intervention in the judicial review process? If so, would statute add certainty and clarity to judicial reviews? To what other ends could statute be used?

4. Is it clear what decisions/powers are subject to Judicial Review and which are not? Should certain decision not be subject to judicial review? If so, which?

5. Is the process of i) making a Judicial Review claim, ii) responding to a Judicial Review claim and/or iii) appealing a Judicial Review decision to the Court of Appeal/ Supreme Court clear?

Section 3 – Process and Procedure

6. Do you think the current Judicial Review procedure strikes the right balance between enabling time for a claimant to lodge a claim, and ensuring effective government and good administration without too many delays?

7. Are the rules regarding costs in judicial reviews too lenient on unsuccessful parties or applied too leniently in the Courts?

8. Are the costs of Judicial Review claims proportionate? If not, how would proportionality best be achieved? Should standing be a consideration for the panel? How are unmeritorious claims currently treated? Should they be treated differently?

9. Are remedies granted as a result of a successful judicial review too inflexible? If so, does this inflexibility have additional undesirable consequences? Would alternative remedies be beneficial?

10. What more can be done by the decision maker or the claimant to minimise the need to proceed with judicial review?

11. Do you have any experience of settlement prior to trial? Do you have experience of settlement ‘at the door of court’? If so, how often does this occur? If this happens often, why do you think this is so?

12. Do you think that there should be more of a role for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in Judicial Review proceedings? If so, what type of ADR would be best to be used?

13. Do you have experience of litigation where issues of standing have arisen? If so, do you think the rules of public interest standing are treated too leniently by the courts?”

We have arranged a joint Town Legal/Landmark Chambers webinar at 5.30 pm on 14 October 2020 to consider these questions in the specific context of the planning system, and the operation of the Planning Court. Event and registration details here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2gsWU81vT7erSoeWqqQ7MQ .

Whether you come from the standpoint of a developer, local authority or community representative, when you strip away the legalism (as we will try to do) all of this really does matter in practice – not just in relation to the small minority of matters that end up in the Planning Court, but in relation to the operation of the system as a whole: fair and predictable procedures are only possible if we know that there are rules, and that remedies are available if they are broken. And when challenges are brought, they need to be resolved with speed, fairness and efficiency.

Simon Ricketts, 12 September 2020

Personal views, et cetera

PS two other webinars for your diary:

5.30 pm 15 September 2020

Permission In Principle – In Practice

(Town Legal with Landmark Chambers)

Event details and registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_5S0GAe6ySN2zfvsdtjd0uQ

5.30 pm 7 October 2020

How will the Combined Infrastructure Levy work, how should it work?

(Town Legal with special guest MHCLG’s director of planning, Simon Gallagher)

Event details and registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_HeND28vJQ6STT-FdLz1u_Q

The Great Hall, Royal Courts of Justice (courtesy Wikipedia)

Introducing The Planning Court Case Explorer

We understand why many participants – not just local authorities, but statutory consultees and the Planning Inspectorate – are risk averse. Judicial review is expensive, and to lose a judicial review in the courts is bad for the reputation of either [sic]. And judicial reviews can be precedent setting, establishing a new interpretation of the law. We think the proposals set out in the document should remove the risk of judicial review substantially. Most judicial reviews are about imprecise and unclearly worded policies or law. Our plans for an overhaul of planning law to create simple and clear processes and for plans that set out clear requirements and standards will substantially remove the scope for ambiguity and therefore challenge.” (Planning For The Future white paper, paragraph 5.16)

You can’t really contemplate any reform on the planning system without considering the role of the courts in the way that the system works in practice. Plainly where a public body (whether the state or a local authority) acts outside its powers, someone thereby affected needs to have access to an effective remedy, usually an order that renders it to be of no legal effect. Quite apart from the rights and procedures deriving from domestic common law principles, UK has international obligations to maintain such processes under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and, specifically in relation to access to environmental justice, under the third pillar of the Aarhus Convention. You can’t embark on a new system without a functioning mechanism to ensure that everyone plays by the rules.

Whilst essential as a backstop against abuse of power, the role of the courts in the operation of the planning system does of course need to be kept to a minimum. There are two areas in particular where there has always been scope to reduce the number of unnecessary claims:

1. As mentioned in that passage in the white paper, many (I’m not sure I would say “most”) “judicial reviews are about imprecise and unclearly worded policies or law.” As regards that first area, the aspiration in the white paper (“an overhaul of planning law to create simple and clear processes and for plans that set out clear requirements and standards will substantially remove the scope for ambiguity and therefore challenge”) is worthy but at present purely wishful thinking. We anticipate now a separate “Autumn” consultation into potential changes to EU-derived legislation, with a view to streamlining for instance SEA and EIA processes (no surprise – see e.g. my 4 July 2020 Have We Got Planning Newts For You: Back To Brexit blog post as well as Environment Secretary George Eustice’s 20 July 2020 speech). Of course, EU-derived environmental legislation (although, to be accurate, this is not about the EU – the relevant EU directives in turn implemented wider international treaty obligations) has been at the root of much planning caselaw, but the white paper’s proposals introduce a wide range of fresh tensions and uncertainties into the process – whether that be about the central imposition of housing requirements on local authorities, accelerated routes to development approvals or the proposed shift to a wholly new mechanism for the funding and delivery of affordable housing and infrastructure.

2. Claimants should be discouraged from using litigation simply as a tactic to secure delay or publicity, or in order to have a “low consequences” speculative last throw of the dice. Some steps have been taken to address this in recent years, most importantly the establishment of the Planning Court in March 2014 so that cases could be dealt with more quickly, by specialist judges, by the introduction of a permission stage in relation to section 288 challenges and by tightening the rules on costs protection (see my 22 June 2019 blog post No Time To Be 21: Where Are We With Aarhus Costs Protection?).

The lack of statistics as to the effectiveness of the Planning Court is frustrating. I went into this in my 8 July 2018 blog post The Planning Court and Richard Harwood QC has also recently expressed similar frustrations in the July 2020 39 Essex Chambers planning, environment and property newsletter, How common are High Court planning challenges?

At Town we recently decided to do something about it. Working alongside Landmark Chambers, on 13 August 2020 we unveiled what we call the Planning Court Case Explorer. The Case Explorer brings together, in one dataset, all judgments of the Planning Court after a full hearing, since its establishment in March 2014 to the end of June 2020 quarter by quarter (25 quarters), together with all subsequent appellate judgments. That amounts to 377 judgments by the Planning Court, 105 by the Court of Appeal and 11 by the Supreme Court. The data captured includes the length of time between the decision under challenge and the ruling, parties, judge and subject matter, with a link to the bailii transcript and usually our Town Library summary, and with a variety of search options so as to be able to interrogate the data, by way of clicking into the tables.

Only now, through this data, can it be seen that the average duration between a decision under challenge and the first instance ruling in relation to that decision is 293 days and can the extent of further delay be seen when a case goes to the Court of Appeal (an average of 726 days between the decision and the ruling) or there after to the Supreme Court (1,000 days!). In the context of a six weeks’ deadline for bring the claim in the first place and then the initial permission stage, that 293 days’ figure in my view is not unreasonable. The subsequent delays on appeal are in my view wholly unjustifiable.

Which judge in the High Court has handed down the most rulings? Lang J (69 judgments), followed a long way behind by Holgate J (28). Which Court of Appeal judge in relation to appeals from rulings by the Planning Court? Unsurprisingly Lindblom LJ (56). For each judge there is a list of his or her judgments.

Which are the most frequent parties? The Secretary of State is way ahead of the field, unsurprisingly, with 267 cases. Second, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (14 rulings). Third, Gladman Developments Limited (12).

There are limitations to the work – for instance we have not focused on win/lose statistics, given the variety of permutations of outcome, and we have not analysed the much larger number of claims which are sieved out at the permission stage. However, I hope that the analysis is a useful step towards greater transparency.

The work now has additional topicality. The Government is not just proposing to reform the planning system. On 31 July 2020 it launched an “independent panel to look at judicial review”.

As set out in the press statement:

“Specifically, the review will consider:

• Whether the terms of Judicial Review should be written into law

• Whether certain executive decisions should be decided on by judges

• Which grounds and remedies should be available in claims brought against the government

• Any further procedural reforms to Judicial Review, such as timings and the appeal process”

The panel’s detailed terms of reference make for potentially worrying reading in terms of their breadth. Don’t just take that from me – here are two recent posts by Mark Elliott, professor of public law and chair of Cambridge University’s law faculty: Judicial Review Review 1: The Reform Agenda & Its Potential Scope and The Judicial Review Review II: Codifying Judicial Review – Clarification Or Evisceration? The review also needs to be read in the context of the Policy Exchange’s agitations via its Judicial Power Project and most recently its 31 July 2020 document Reforming The Supreme Court (now let’s think about what motivation they might have for that? hmm…). This is all really important stuff – at least as important and potentially far reaching as planning reform, that’s for sure.

The panel comprises:

• Lord Faulks QC – Panel Chair

• Professor Carol Harlow QC

• Vikram Sachdeva QC

• Professor Alan Page

• Celina Colquhoun

• Nick McBride

It is very good to see Celina Colquhoun, as a well-respected and leading planning barrister, on the panel, and I hope that the operation of the Planning Court can perhaps be held out as a useful precedent, with its proactive, relatively quick, case management and judges familiar with our subject area, meaning quicker hearings with, in my view, a greater degree of predictability of outcome. 493 planning cases going to a full hearing (including appeals) in just over six years? That’s not many at all in my view, given the inherent contentious nature of our work and the extent to which there is room for dispute and uncertainty. Despite all the usual gnashing of teeth, isn’t this one aspect of our planning system that is actually working (or at least would be once the Court of Appeal adopts the same approach to timescales as the Planning Court)? In fact, where would we be without regular clarification from the courts as to what the legislation actually means?!

That leads neatly onto a reminder about our free weekly Town Library Planning Court rulings subscription service. The registration page for this and other Town Library updates (e.g. planning appeal decision letters) is here: https://www.townlegal.com/news-and-resources/#the-town-library .

Simon Ricketts, 15 August 2020

Personal views, et cetera

The Planning Court Case Explorer

Double Exposure – Holborn Studios Win Again: Viability, Transparency

The next time you hear someone reprise Dominic Cummings’ February 2020 riff on the need for “urgent action on the farce that judicial review has become”, it’s worth thinking back to cases like R (Holborn Studios) v London Borough of Hackney (No 2) (Dove J, 11 June 2020). Sometimes it’s only the pesky lawyers (here Richard Harwood QC and solicitor Susan Ring, as well of course as a switched on judge) who, via judicial review, are finally able to cut through the sheer fudge and obfuscation of the planning application process.

This was the second time around for Holborn Studios, described in the judgment as “the leaseholder of 49-50 Eagle Wharf Road where they run one of the largest photographic studio complexes in Europe”. The studios have long campaigned against the proposed redevelopment of their building (for instance see What will become of Holborn Studios? (Londonist, 25 August 2017)).

The first planning permission which the London Borough of Hackney had purported to grant, in November 2016, was quashed by the High Court in R (Holborn Studios) v London Borough of Hackney (No 1) (Deputy Judge John Howell QC, 10 November 2017). The judge found that there had been an unlawful failure to consult the claimants and others on amendments made to the planning application and that the council had unfairly failed to disclose unredacted two letters on which officers had relied to support their view that proposed studio spaces in the basement were workable and that their layout was acceptable.

By the time of that first judgment a second application for planning permission had already been made. It was granted on 9 August 2019. Richard Harwood QC had indeed spoken at the planning committee meeting on behalf of Holborn Studios, seemingly to no avail. Again judicial review. The campaign against redevelopment continued (for instance see Battle to save Holborn Studios continues as celebrities and photographers line up in support (Hackney Citizen, 18 November 2019)).

When the case was heard in front of Dove J on 17 March 2020 there were three grounds of challenge but it is worth focusing on the first two, namely:

Ground one is a sequence of legal contentions related to the information provided in respect of the viability assessment for the proposed development which informed the contributions which were sought from the interested party, in particular in relation to affordable housing. It is said by the claimant that the defendant’s approach to this issue failed to comply with national planning policy in relation to the provision of information in respect of viability assessments; that the defendant’s approach was in breach of a legitimate expectation in respect of the disclosure of viability information and, finally, that as a matter of law the viability information provided was in breach of the defendant’s duties in relation to the publication of background papers to the committee report. Ground two is the allegation that the defendant’s guidance for the members of its planning committee were unlawful in so far as they precluded members from reading lobbying material submitted to them by consultees and required that instead this material was passed to officers unread.”

For a very good summary of the relevant facts, and the conclusions reached by the judge, I will now pause for two minutes whilst you read this: Access to viability assessments: Holborn Studios 2 (Richard Harwood QC, 11 June 2020).

Or even better if you have ten minutes, read the judgment itself. Summaries sometimes do not bring across the starkness of the judge’s description of events and analysis.

Some choice passages from the judgment:

On viability

A concern was raised by Mr Harwood at the planning committee meeting that “that the material on viability in the public domain appeared to demonstrate that the interested party’s consultants had undertaken the exercise on the basis of a residualised value, rather than taking an existing use value plus approach which was what was required by policy” and the point was also taken up by a councillor. Dove J chooses to relate the following, including a verbatim quotation of the meaningless response that councillors received:

Mr Robert Carney, who had been one of the defendant’s officers and who had been involved with the consideration and negotiation of the viability of the development (albeit that by the time he attended the committee meeting he was working for a consultancy) was called upon to address these concerns, and in particular whether or not a residualised value approach had been taken to the viability exercise. His observations in respect of this issue, as recorded on the transcript contained within the court’s papers, were as follows:

“Perhaps I’ll deal with the specifics of the, the values of where- of where they have been reported and Stuart will want to talk about, uh, the transparency of the information in the public domain. So I just want to clarify, we’ve used an existing use value plus approach in accordance with all guidance and the- what that approach- that approach forms was known as benchmark land value, that’s referred to in the table at 5.3.62. Uh, you have the applicant’s proposed benchmark land value and then the independent assessor’s benchmark land value. And what you do is you, uh, look at the residual land value and the appraisal, basically, given them the residual land value, show them the appraisal equals or is more than the benchmark- benchmark land value, the scheme is viable. Because what that means is that a hypothetical, uh, developer can purchase the site at a figure above the benchmark land value. And we see in appraisal it’s just shy of that benchmark land value. But basically, um, through our negotiations we accepted that the scheme had maximised, uh, it’s viability with the, um, agreed contributions.”

On the failure to make all of the viability appraisal information as background papers to the committee report;

“The first point raised is whether or not the defendant complied with its obligations under the 1972 Act in relation to the provision and listing of background papers. In short, I have no doubt that the defendant failed to comply with its obligations under section 100 D of the 1972 Act, not simply in relation to listing background papers but also in failing to provide them for inspection. It is clear from the evidence which has been set out above, including in particular the evidence of Mr Carney, that there was a significant quantity of documentation bearing upon the viability issues generated both before and especially after those documents that were published in relation to viability on the defendant’s website. It appears clear from Mr Carney’s evidence that, after the material from September 2018 which the defendant published, there was a significant volume of further technical work addressing ground rents and their impact on existing use value, the derivation of figures for the planning obligations and CIL and also the identification of a benchmark land value. Whilst not all of this material needed to be produced and listed it is simply inconceivable that none of this material would have qualified under section 100 D (5) of the 1972 Act. Clearly the contents of the committee report dealing with the viability exercise and its ultimate conclusions as to the affordable housing contribution which could legitimately be required, depended upon the contents of this material. There was, therefore, information which should have been listed and of which copies should have been provided for inspection.”

On the approach that should be taken to viability appraisal:

“In my view there are some clear principles set out in the Framework and the PPG to which it refers. Firstly, in accordance with the Framework viability assessments (where they are justified) should reflect the approach set out in PPG, and be made publicly available. Secondly, and in following the approach recommended in the Framework and the PPG, standardised inputs should be used including, for the purpose of land value, a benchmark land value based upon existing use value plus as described in the PPG. Thirdly, as set out in the PPG, the inputs and findings of a viability assessment should be set out “in a way that aids clear interpretation and interrogation by decision-makers” and be made publicly available save in exceptional circumstances. As the PPG makes clear, the preparation of a viability assessment “is not usually specific to that developer and thereby need not contain commercially sensitive data”. Even if some elements of the assessment are commercially sensitive, as the PPG points out, they can be aggregated in a published viability assessment so as to avoid disclosure of sensitive material.”

On whether elements of viability information should be treated as exempt from disclosure:

“As Mr Harwood pointed out in his submissions, there is an exception to the definition of exempt information contained in paragraph 10 of Schedule 12 to the 1972 Act where “the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.” In my judgment the existence of the policy contained in the Framework and the guidance contained in the PPG have an important bearing on the consideration of whether or not there is a public interest in disclosing the information contained in a viability assessment (even if it is properly to be characterised as commercially sensitive, bearing in mind the observations in the PPG about the extent to which information in such an assessment would be specific to a particular developer). It is clear from the material in the Framework and the PPG that save in exceptional circumstances the anticipation is that viability assessments, including their standardised inputs, will be placed in the public domain in order to ensure transparency, accountability and access to decision-taking for communities affected by development. The interests which placing viability assessments into the public domain serve are clearly public interests, which in my view support the contention that such assessments are not exempt information unless the exceptional circumstances spoken to by the PPG arise and solely an executive summary should be put in the public domain. It is unclear to me based on the material before the court how, if ever, the defendant ever considered the question of the public interest in relation to this exemption in the context of the relevant national planning policy. I am, therefore, unable to accept the submission advanced on behalf of the defendant that their failure to comply with section 100 D of the 1972 Act was a matter justified by the contention that the material withheld was exempt information. “

As to whether the viability information publicly available was comprehensive and coherent:

“In my view there are critical elements of the material in the public domain in relation to viability, set out in the documentation published on the defendant’s website and in the committee report, which are opaque and unexplained.”

If you deal regularly with viability appraisal you then need to read in full paragraphs 67 to 70 for an account by the judge of some of the deficiencies.

Drawing the threads together:

““Drawing the threads together, the material contained in the public domain at the time when the decision was taken by the planning committee to resolve to grant planning permission was inconsistent and opaque. It contained figures which differed in relation to, for instance, benchmark land value and the differences between the figures were not explained. No explanation was provided as to how the benchmark land value had been arrived at in terms of establishing an existing use value and identify a landowner’s premium as was asserted to have been case. Read against the background of the policy and guidance contained in the Framework and the PPG it was not possible to identify from the material in the public domain standardised inputs of the existing use value and landowner’s premium, and the purpose of the policy to secure transparency and accountability in the production of viability assessment was not served. In particular, it was plain from the material available at the time of the decision (in particular in terms of the material inconsistencies in the material produced in September 2018 and the differences from the material in the committee report) that there was substantial additional background material on which the committee report was based which was neither listed nor available for inspection in accordance with the requirements of the 1972 Act. In my view the principles identified in the case of Joicey by Cranston J at paragraph 47 are clearly on point, since the purpose of having a legal obligation to confer a right to know in relation to material underpinning a democratic decision-taking process is to enable members of the public to make well-informed observations on the substance of the decision. The failure to provide the background material underpinning the viability assessment in the present case, in circumstances where such material as was in the public domain was opaque and incoherent, was a clear and material legal error in the decision-taking process. In reality, in my judgment, the material with which the public was provided failed Mr Fraser-Urquhart’s own test of being adequate to enable the member of the public to make a sensible response to the consultation on the application.”

On the council’s attempt to prevent the direct lobbying of councillors

“… bearing in mind the importance of the decisions which the members of the planning committee are making, and the fact that they are acting in the context of a democratically representative role, the need for the communication of views and opinions between councillors and the public whom they represent must be afforded significant weight. In my view, it would be extremely difficult to justify as proportionate the discouragement, prohibition or prevention of communication between public and the councillors representing them which was otherwise in accordance with the law.”

“Receiving communications from objectors to an application for planning permission is an important feature of freedom of expression in connection with democratic decision-taking and in undertaking this aspect of local authority business. Whilst it may make perfect sense after the communication has been read for the member to pass it on to officers (so that for instance its existence can be logged in the file relating to the application, and any issues which need to be addressed in advice to members can be taken up in a committee report), the preclusion or prevention of members reading such material could not be justified as proportionate since it would serve no proper purpose in the decision-taking process. Any concern that members might receive misleading or illegitimate material will be resolved by the passing of that correspondence to officers, so that any such problem of that kind would be rectified. In my view there is an additional issue of fairness which arises if members of the planning committee are prevented from reading lobbying material from objectors and required to pass that information unread to their officers. The position that would leave members in would be that they would be reliant only on material from the applicant placed on the public record as part of the application or the information and opinions summarised and edited in the committee report. It is an important feature of the opportunity of an objector to a planning application to be able to present that objection and the points which they wish to make in the manner which they believe will make them most cogent and persuasive. Of course, it is a matter for the individual councillor in the discharge of his responsibilities to choose what evidence and opinion it is that he or she wishes to study in discharging the responsibility of determining a planning application, but the issue in the present case is having the access to all the material bearing upon the application in order to make that choice. If the choice is curtailed by an instruction not to read any lobbying material from members of the public that has a significant impact on the ability of a member of the public to make a case in relation to a proposed development making the points that they wish to make in the way in which they would wish to make them.”

“The standard correspondence clearly advised against members of the public writing directly to members of the committee; there was no warrant for that advice or discouragement and it impeded the freedom of expression of a member of the public who was entitled to write to a member of the planning committee setting out in his or her own terms the points they wish to be considered in respect of an application and expect that the member would have the opportunity to read it. It appears that Councillor Stops was under the impression that he was to resist being lobbied by either an applicant or member of the public, and Councillor Snell had apparently taken legal advice to the effect that he should refrain from reading any lobbying letter and forward it on to officers. Neither of these approaches reflects the defendant’s Code, nor does it reflect the entitlement to freedom of expression in accordance with the legal principles set out above.”

Concluding remarks

The case is a really helpful reminder to all of us of a few lessons:

Don’t get blinded by bad science. Good science is clear. Yes, viability appraisal includes some maths and you need to make sure that you understand the structure of the policy as to how viability appraisals should be conducted for the purposes in relation to the determination of planning applications. Subject to those points, if you don’t understand what is being said, you need to probe. A good viability appraisal does make sense and does tie in with policy and indeed common sense. And the process of arriving at an agreed viability appraisal should not be a behind the scenes negotiation. Memories of the R (Rainbird) v London Borough of Tower Hamlets (Deputy Judge John Howell QC, 28 March 2018) line of cases on daylight and sunlight – if the specialist input is not clear, and carried out in accordance with the relevant technical guidance such that the decision maker is not significantly misled, or if the detail that is needed for anyone to make sense of the position is held back, there is a plain risk of the resultant planning permission being struck down.

The approach to be taken to viability, both in terms of methodology and openness, has changed as a result of Government policy, and that is recognised by the courts.

Recognise that the value of having decisions taken at planning committee by elected councillors rests both in their being properly briefed by officers and also in their role as democratic representatives, not shielded from appropriate lobbying as if they were some jury.

However upsetting it may be for those whose decisions are overturned (and I recognise that there can be unwelcome consequences), without judicial review decision makers would pretty much be free to operate with impunity, to hell with the evidence (see also Westferry Printworks). That would be a farce.

Simon Ricketts, 13 June 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Apparent Bias, Unfair Hearings

The continuing to-do about Secretary of State’s admission of “apparent bias” in the Westferry Printworks case got me thinking about other apparent bias cases and the overlap with the right to a fair hearing – basically as an excuse to mention this week’s startling case from the Supreme Court, Serafin v Malkiewicz (Supreme Court, 3 June 2020). All the cases in this bias/unfair hearing area have a gossipy, “you need to have been there”, feel to them, and there are lessons in all of them for all decision-makers.

After all, for all the constant chatter about the rights and wrongs of our planning system, at its very root it needs to be fair, and seen as fair. Aside from a being fundamental principle of our legal system, the right to a fair hearing in front of an independent and impartial decision maker is also given force by way of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law…”

Serafin v Malkiewicz

Serafin v Malkiewicz is nothing to do with planning law. It concerns a libel action brought by a litigant in person who found himself against not so much the barrister on the other side but against the judge, Jay J (yes, really, non-lawyers, Jay J). He lost, badly. The Supreme Court judgment, by Lord Wilson attaches a schedule of extracts from the hearing in front of Jay J, which make truly excruciating reading – really and truly, an object lesson in how not to preside over any sort of hearing, let alone in relation to a litigant in person for whom English was not his first language. Imagine an inspector behaving in such a way.

The Supreme Court did not treat the issue in the case as one of potential apparent bias but as to whether the hearing had been fair. It referred to the distinction between the two principles, as described by Hildyard J in M&P Enterprises (London) Limited v Norfolk Square (Northern Square (Northern Section) Limited (High Court, 12 October 2018, namely that whereas “the fairness of a trial required objective judicial assessment, the appearance of bias fell to be judged through the eyes of the fair-minded and informed observer”.

… it is far from clear that the observer would consider that the judge had given an appearance of bias. A painstaking reading of the full transcripts of the evidence given over four and a half days strongly suggests that, insofar as the judge evinced prejudice against the claimant, it was the product of his almost immediate conclusion that the claim was hopeless and that the hearing of it represented a disgraceful waste of judicial resources.”

“… when one considers the barrage of hostility towards the claimant’s case, and towards the claimant himself acting in person, fired by the judge in immoderate, ill-tempered and at times offensive language at many different points during the long hearing, one is driven, with profound regret, to uphold the Court of Appeal’s conclusion that he did not allow the claim to be properly presented; that therefore he could not fairly appraise it; and, that, in short, the trial was unfair. Instead of making allowance for the claimant’s appearance in person, the judge harassed and intimidated him in ways which surely would never have occurred if the claimant had been represented. It was ridiculous for the defendants to submit to us that, when placed in context, the judge’s interventions were “wholly justifiable”.”

The Court of Appeal had similarly concluded that the hearing had been unfair but had only concluded that part of the case be heard again. The Supreme Court went further:

“Lord Reed observed during the hearing that a judgment which results from an unfair trial is written in water. An appellate court cannot seize even on parts of it and erect legal conclusions upon them. That is why, whatever its precise meaning, it is so hard to understand the Court of Appeal’s unexplained order that all issues of liability had, in one way or another, been concluded. Had the Court of Appeal first addressed the issue of whether the trial had been unfair, it would have been more likely to recognise that the only proper order was for a retrial. It is no doubt highly desirable that, prior to any retrial, the parties should seek to limit the issues. It is possible that, in the light of what has transpired in the litigation to date, the claimant will agree to narrow the ambit of his claim and/or that the defendants will agree to narrow the ambit of their defences. But that is a matter for them. Conscious of how the justice system has failed both sides, this court, with deep regret, must order a full retrial.”

Porter v Magill

The classic articulation of the apparent bias test is by Lord Hope in Porter v Magill (House of Lords, 13 December 2001): the “question is whether the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased”.

Porter v Magill was of course part of the Lady Porter/Westminster City Council “homes for votes” saga. An auditor, John Magill, had been appointed to consider whether “three councillors and three officers had, by wilful misconduct, jointly and severally caused a loss of approximately £31m to the council which they were liable to make good.”

One of the councillors’ grounds of appeal against Mr Magill’s findings of the auditor, John Magill, was on the basis of apparent bias evidenced by the manner in which, ahead of his full inquiry, he had announced his provisional findings:

“A televised announcement was arranged at which the auditor himself appeared and, although he said that his views were provisional, he expressed them in florid language and supported them by reference to the thoroughness of the investigation which he claimed to have carried out. There was a further feature of the event which should have had no place in the middle of a quasi-judicial inquiry. A stack of ring binders on the desk at which the auditor sat bearing the name of his firm for the benefit of the cameras was, ostensibly, under the protection of a security guard: unless it was being implied that the persons under investigation might wish to steal the documents, it is not clear what was the purpose of this posturing.”

The court did not accept that there was apparent bias. In the words of Lord Hope:

“I think that it is plain…that the auditor made an error of judgment when he decided to make his statement in public at a press conference. The main impression which this would have conveyed to the fair-minded observer was that the purpose of this exercise was to attract publicity to himself, and perhaps also to his firm. It was an exercise in self-promotion in which he should not have indulged. But it is quite another matter to conclude from this that there was a real possibility that he was biased…. The auditor’s conduct must be seen in the context of the investigation which he was carrying out, which had generated a great deal of public interest. A statement as to his progress would not have been inappropriate. His error was to make it at a press conference. This created the risk of unfair reporting, but there was nothing in the words he used to indicate that there was a real possibility that he was biased. He was at pains to point out to the press that his findings were provisional. There is no reason to doubt his word on this point, as his subsequent conduct demonstrates. I would hold, looking at the matter objectively, that a real possibility that he was biased has not been demonstrated.”

Broadview Energy

Turning to a case with greater similarities to the Westferry Printworks situation, in Broadview Energy Developments Limited v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 22 June 2016) the Court of Appeal deprecated informal lobbying attempts by MPs, in that case Andrea Leadsom MP’s attempts to stop a wind farm scheme, with a conversation in the Commons tea-room and numerous emails from her to the minister, including one referring to her “badgering [him] in the lobby”. Longmore LJ in that case indicated that he “would not endorse that part of the judge’s judgment [at first instance] in which he said that lobbying of Ministers by MPs was part and parcel of the representative role of a constituency MP with its implication that such lobbying was permissible even when the Minister is making a quasi-judicial decision in relation to a controversial planning application. MPs should not, with respect, be in any different position from other interested parties.”

The court’s deprecation fell short of determining that the decision was as a result unlawful. On the specific question of bias:

“Nor do I think it arguable that a well informed observed would consider that there was a real possibility of bias on the part of Mr Hopkins. The well-informed observer would know that it was the responsibility of the relevant Minister to make difficult decisions about controversial projects such as on-shore wind farms. He would also know that sometimes such decisions are, as this one was, finely balanced. He would not think that a Minister’s decision in favour of a vocal body of local objectors supported by their local MP showed any bias against the promoter of the wind farm project. He would accept that the Minister had to make a decision one way or the other and think that the parties should accept the outcome.

Nevertheless the accusation of bias made in this case shows how important the principle is that Ministers making planning decisions should not allow themselves to be lobbied by parties to the planning process or by local MPs. If they do allow it, accusations of bias are all too easily made however unjustified they may be once the proper principles exemplified by Magill v Porter [2002] 2 AC 357 are applied.”

Turning from the position of ministers to that of inspectors:

Turner

Turner v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 11 June 2015) was a case where an objector to the proposed redevelopment of the Shell Centre, on London’s south bank, argued that the inquiry inspector had been biased in the way that he had dealt with his case at the inquiry, alleging, as set out in the judgment, that the inspector had curtailed his evidence and submissions and had made adverse procedural rulings.

In determining whether the inspector had acted inappropriately, the Court set out the approach to be followed as follows:

“The notional fair-minded observer would appreciate a number of aspects of the present context: (i) an inspector’s role has a strong inquisitorial dimension, investigating matters in a way which will enable him to report helpfully to the relevant decision-maker, the Secretary of State; with that end in view, it is fair and appropriate for an inspector to seek to focus debate at an inquiry by making interventions to ensure that he is provided with material to assist him in his task; (ii) an inspector has to manage efficiently the conduct of an inquiry within a limited time-frame and involving a range of parties wishing to give evidence, make submissions and participate in cross-examination of witnesses; this may require robust case management in the interests of all participants; (iii) an inspector is entitled to expect, and may legitimately seek to encourage, focused questioning and short and focused answers in the course of cross-examination of witnesses; (iv) the inquiry process provides an inspector with relevant information through a range of media, including written opening statements, examination of plans and the making of detailed closing submissions, as well as through the evidence of witnesses (both by witness statement and orally in cross-examination), and an inspector is expected to have done a good deal of preparation before an inquiry commences and is entitled to seek to focus debate on particular issues in the form which is most likely to provide clarity about what is at stake and assistance for him in writing a report; and (v) as part of his inquiry-management function, and to encourage a focus on what is most likely to assist him in his reporting task, an inspector is entitled to give indications in the course of an inquiry of points which appear to him to be unrealistic or bad and to require concentration on what appear to him to be the real substantive points of contention or where continued debate will be most helpful to him. It is of course possible that an inspector may go too far in robust inquiry management or in closing down debate, so as to give an appearance of bias. But given the expectation that an inspector should be actively managing the inquiry process to ensure that it is efficient, effective and fair to all interested parties, it will be a rare case, as Woolf J observed, in which it is likely that robust inquiry management will be found to have done so.

Another part of the context is the guidance issued by the Planning Inspectorate in the form of “The Inspector’s Code of Conduct”. This sets out principles of conduct for inspectors. Amongst other things, they “should make their decisions and recommendations fairly and in the public interest”; “should not be fettered with pre-determined views and should not judge cases before they have considered the evidence”; “should not be influenced by irrelevant considerations or outside influences when making their decisions and recommendations”; “should avoid unnecessary delay in reaching their decisions and recommendations”; and “should treat each person with dignity and respect”, behaving “at all times with courtesy, patience and understanding, whilst at the same time ensuring that cases are conducted efficiently and effectively.” This guidance is designed to promote best practice. It does not in itself create the standard by which an appearance of bias is to be judged. For example, a lapse in courtesy or patience on the part of an inspector in the course of an inquiry will not in itself give an appearance of bias in the requisite sense. A good deal more than that would be required: cf HCA International Ltd v The Competition and Markets Authority [2015] EWCA Civ 492, in which even a serious element of actual unfairness of treatment of the appellant by the relevant public authority, which misled the appellant at one stage about an aspect of its inquiry, was found not to create an appearance of bias or pre-determination such as to prevent the same personnel in that authority from making a re-determination of matters in contention. (So that we are not misunderstood, and in fairness to the Inspector in the present case, we should add that on the limited evidence which is available we are not persuaded that he behaved discourteously to Mr Turner or anyone else at the inquiry).”

The court dismissed the appeal: “None of the matters relied on by Mr Turner, whether taken individually or together, indicate that there was a real possibility that the Inspector was biased. The Inspector acted properly and without giving any appearance of bias according to the relevant test in Porter v Magill.”

Satnam

Turner was applied in Satnam Millennium Limited v Secretary of State (Sir Duncan Ouseley, 8 October 2019). Satnam challenged the decision by the Secretary of State, on the recommendation of his inspector, to dismiss an appeal in relation a large development proposal in Warrington. Whilst the judge upheld the challenge on other grounds, he rejected a submission that the inspector had showed apparent bias in the way that he conducted the inquiry, as well as the site visit. Again the judgment is a good read as to the facts, particularly paragraphs 112 to 189. Extracts from the PINS manual for inspectors are at paragraphs 190 to 194 and the general legal principles are set out at paragraphs 195 to 206. The judge’s detailed conclusions, in which he rejects the various complaints, are at paragraphs 229 to 254. There are some interesting pointers as to the conduct of hearings and inquiries and as a cheerful point to end on…

Humour is not forbidden:

“The grumbling from Mr Griffiths about a resident giving her evidence in song, followed by the quick interchange over giving evidence in dance and northern humour, rather illustrated my concern about where he was pitching his concern. This was but a moment of light heartedness, essentially initiated by the witness, and briefly responded to by the Inspector. Some Inspectors might have kept silent; but there is nothing in this at all. Not all judges or counsel are humourless automatons either. Although it would avoid some problems if Inspectors were, it could create others at an Inquiry with feelings running high and large numbers of the public attending. This was all very much part of a legitimate judgment about how to run a difficult Inquiry in those venues, with the facilities, and participants there were.”

“I accept that there would have been an impression of familiarity with individuals to whom [the inspector] had spoken on a daily basis, but that does not contrast with how he spoke to the other participants; they were not ignored, their greetings, if any, dismissed. “Banter” is very much in the eye and ear of the beholder. I am not prepared to regard any of it as indicative of possible bias.”

Reading these various cases again, and thinking again about Westferry Printworks, doesn’t so much of this come down to common sense and the facts of each situation rather than the application of any difficult legal concepts? The courts may be surprisingly reluctant at times to intervene (which makes so telling the Serafin ruling, as well as the decision of the government legal department not even to seek to contest Westferry) but decision makers should know what’s not right and, equally importantly, what doesn’t look right.

Simon Ricketts, 6 June 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Revisiting Burkett: Should The JR Pre-Action Protocol Be Updated?

I have a simple suggestion this week, sparked by thinking about two judicial review cases, almost 20 years apart, both involving challenges to the adequacy of environmental impact assessment processes in relation to particular schemes. In both of them the indefatigable claimant environmental lawyer Richard Buxton was on the winning side. (If anyone asks why developers nowadays routinely spend significant amounts of time and money having their lawyers review draft application and EIA documents, the answer is mostly Richard).

But my suggestion isn’t about EIA, but is about when a potential claimant should notify a defendant authority that it is considered that grounds for a potential challenge have arisen. At the moment, there is no requirement to do that, by way of a letter written in accordance with the Administrative Court’s pre-action protocol, followed by the issue of proceedings, until it is all too late and permission has been issued. This of course is part of what makes judicial review such a powerful tool for objectors to development proposals – the ability to ambush by tripping the council up on a legal point when it’s too late for them to do anything about it. I intend no specific criticism of Richard (in that it’s not a feature at all of either of the cases mentioned in this post) but often only then does the claimant’s lawyer leap out of the bushes with a multi-page “aha and gotcha” letter.

The law was in a hopeless mess 20 years ago. No-one knew whether a claimant was safe to wait to challenge the relevant planning permission once it had been issued, or whether the challenge should be to any earlier decision in the process, for instance the authority’s resolution to approve the application.

The case which put that question to bed was R (Burkett) v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (House of Lords, 23 May 2002).

It involved St George’s Imperial Wharf development in Fulham, “a mixed use development comprising 1,803 residential units (1303 private flats and 500 affordable dwellings in the form of flats and houses), an hotel, class A1 retail, class A3 restaurant, class D community uses, health and fitness club, class B1 offices, public open space and riverside walk, together with associated car parking, landscaping and access road.”

Richard acted for Mrs Burkett, who lived in a ground floor maisonette next to the site. The council resolved to approve the application on 15 September 1999 but before then he had written to the council alleging that the environmental impact assessment being relied upon was deficient. After the resolution he continued to complain but did not issue judicial review proceedings until 6 April 2000. The planning permission was not issued until 12 May 2000.

Why the delay? Well, those were the days. Legal aid for planning-related judicial review proceedings was still available and, having started his work on a pro bono basis, Richard had to wait until the Legal Services Commission had confirmed that legal aid would be granted to Mrs Burkett, on a nil contribution basis (which also gave protection against any adverse costs orders – in the days before any Aarhus protective costs order regime).

The council submitted that the claim was out of time and Richards J at first instance and then the Court of Appeal agreed. Shades of the Dill case I mentioned last week in that it was only the House of Lords that reached the contrary view.

Lord Slynn:

In my opinion, for the reasons given by Lord Steyn, where there is a challenge to the grant itself, time runs from the date of the grant and not from the date of the resolution. It seems to me clear that because someone fails to challenge in time a resolution conditionally authorising the grant of planning permission, that failure does not prevent a challenge to the grant itself if brought in time, i e from the date when the planning permission is granted. I realise that this may cause some difficulties in practice, both for local authorities and for developers, but for the grant not to be capable of challenge, because the resolution has not been challenged in time, seems to me wrongly to restrict the right of the citizen to protect his interests. The relevant legislative provisions do not compel such a result nor do principles of administrative law prevent a challenge to the grant even if the grounds relied on are broadly the same as those which if brought in time would have been relied on to challenge the resolution.”

Lord Steyn’s reasoning:

“45. First, the context is a rule of court which by operation of a time limit may deprive a citizen of the right to challenge an undoubted abuse of power. And such a challenge may involve not only individual rights but also community interests, as in environmental cases. This is a contextual matter relevant to the interpretation of the rule of court. It weighs in favour of a clear and straightforward interpretation which will yield a readily ascertainable starting date. Entrusting judges with a broad discretionary task of retrospectively assessing when the complaint could first reasonably have been made (as a prelude to deciding whether the application is time barred) is antithetical to the context of a time limit barring judicial review.

46. Secondly, legal policy favours simplicity and certainty rather than complexity and uncertainty. In the interpretation of legislation this factor is a commonplace consideration. In choosing between competing constructions a court may presume, in the absence of contrary indications, that the legislature intended to legislate for a certain and predictable regime. Much will depend on the context. In procedural legislation, primary or subordinate, it must be a primary factor in the interpretative process, notably where the application of the procedural regime may result in the loss of fundamental rights to challenge an unlawful exercise of power. The citizen must know where he stands. And so must the local authority and the developer. For my part this approach is so firmly anchored in domestic law that it is unnecessary, in this case, to seek to reinforce it by reference to the European principle of legal certainty

50. Thirdly, the preparation of a judicial review application, particularly in a town planning matter, is a burdensome task. There is a duty of full and frank disclosure on the applicant: 053/14/57 to RSC Ord 53, r 14. The applicant must present to the court a detailed statement of his grounds, his evidence, his supporting documents in a paginated and indexed bundle, a list of essential reading with relevant passages sidelined, and his legislative sources in a paginated indexed bundle. This is a heavy burden on individuals and, where legal aid is sought, the Legal Services Commission. The Civil Procedure Rules and Practice Direction – Judicial Review Supplementing Part 54 contain similar provisions: see also the Pre-Action Protocol for Judicial Review. An applicant is at risk of having to pay substantial costs which may, for example, result in the loss of his home. These considerations reinforce the view that it is unreasonable to require an applicant to apply for judicial review when the resolution may never take effect. They further reinforce the view that it is unfair to subject a judicial review applicant to the uncertainty of a retrospective decision by a judge as to the date of the triggering of the time limit under the rules of court.

51. For all these reasons I am satisfied that the words “from the date when the grounds for the application first arose” refer to the date when the planning permission was granted. In the case before the House time did not run therefore from the resolution of 15 September 1999 but only from the grant of planning permission on 12 May 2000. It follows that in my view the decisions of Richards J and the Court of Appeal were not correct.”

This remains the legal position. The current time limit provision in the Civil Procedure Rules is as follows:

“Where the application for judicial review relates to a decision made by the Secretary of State or local planning authority under the planning acts, the claim form must be filed not later than six weeks after the grounds to make the claim first arose, holding that time runs from the actual grant of planning permission not the resolution to grant“ (CPR 54.5 (5))

Note the reference to “the actual grant of planning permission”. What if the prospective challenge is not to the grant of permission but to another specific procedural step, such as the issue by the Secretary of State of an EIA screening direction, confirming that EIA is not required?

It seems to be accepted that it is not safe to store up challenges to such decisions until permission is issued (although query the precise legal distinction with a committee resolution – might it be that screening is a specific step expressly provided for in legislation?). The question didn’t need to be raised in Richard’s latest success (pending any appeal, at least), in Swire v Secretary of State (Lang J, 22 May 2020), where he acted for an objector to another residential development. Here the dispute was as to whether EIA was required. The council disagreed and issued a negative screening opinion. He applied to the Secretary of State for a screening direction and this was also negative. He then challenged the Secretary of State’s decision to issue that direction.

(Whilst it is nothing to do with the theme of this post, Lang J’s reasons for allowing the challenge are interesting and need to be borne in mind when screening processes are undertaken:

“There was a lack of any expert evidence and risk assessment on the nature of any BSE-related contamination at the Site, and any hazards it might present to human health. The measures which might be required to remediate any such contamination and hazards had not been identified. This was a difficult and novel problem for all parties to address. It was acknowledged by the Council in its screening opinion, acting on the advice of the Environmental Health Practitioner, that specialist advice would be needed to consider the remediation of prions associated with CJD/BSE. Therefore condition 21 merely referred to the requirement that a written method statement for the remediation of land and/or groundwater would have to be agreed by the Council without any party knowing what the remediation for BSE-related infection might comprise. The Defendant adopted the Council’s approach in his screening opinion. But because of the lack of expert evidence, the Defendant was simply not in a position to make an “informed judgment” (per Dyson LJ in Jones, at [39]) as to whether, or to what extent, any proposed remedial measures could or would remediate any BSE-related contamination. It follows that when the Defendant concluded that “he was satisfied that the proposed measures would satisfactorily safeguard and address potential problems of contamination” and that “the proposed measures would safeguard the health of prospective residents of the development”, he was making an assumption that any measures proposed under condition 21 would be successful, without sufficient information to support that assumption. As Pill LJ said in Gillespie, at [41], “the test applied was not the correct one. The error was in the assumption that the investigations and works contemplated in condition VI could be treated, at the time of the screening decision, as having had a successful outcome”. Whilst “not all uncertainties have to be resolved” (per Dyson LJ in Jones at [39]), on the facts this case was not one “where the likely effectiveness of conditions or proposed remedial or ameliorative measures can be predicted with confidence” (per Pill LJ at [34]). As the Site was proposed for residential housing, a higher standard of remediation would be required than if it were intended to adapt it for an industrial use, or merely to decontaminate it and return it to woodland (some sites will never be suitable for residential housing, because of industrial contamination).

Mr Honey relied upon the advice given to the Defendant by the Environment Agency, which advised that conditions requiring risk assessment and remediation proposals would be sufficient to mitigate against potential adverse impact on the groundwater. The Environment Agency previously advised the Council that without conditions “the proposed development poses an unacceptable risk to the environment”. I do not consider that the advice from the Environment Agency justified the approach adopted by the Defendant. It confirmed the view of the Environmental Health Practitioner and the Council that further investigation and assessment was needed. It did not provide the Defendant with any evidence that there was no risk of adverse environmental impacts, nor that mitigating measures had as yet been identified which would satisfactorily overcome any such risk. Moreover, it advised that its remit was limited to the protection of the soil and groundwater, and the impact on human health – crucial to this case – was a matter for the Environmental Health Officer. It was not the Environment Agency’s responsibility to advise the Defendant on the legal requirements for undertaking a screening opinion, in the light of Gillespie and the other authorities, and on my reading of the email, it did not purport to do so.

Finally, I have some concerns about the final paragraph of Mr Carpenter’s email to his manager, dated 6 August 2019, whilst reminding myself that this was not part of the formal decision. He said:


“I acknowledge that this case is quite finely balanced. …I am, however, not convinced by what would be achieved by issuing a positive Screening Direction as all the issues have been thoroughly investigated in detailed studies/assessments submitted as part of the planning application process, other than giving the objectors “another bite of the cherry”.”

Plainly he was mistaken in believing that the issue of BSE contamination had been thoroughly investigated in the reports submitted with the planning application, as they were all completed before the developer became aware that BSE-infected carcasses had previously been disposed of at the Site. If this view informed his decision-making, it was a significant error.

Further, on my reading, he appears to suggest that, in a case where the question whether the proposed development was likely to have significant effects on the environment was “finely balanced”, an EIA would be an unnecessary extra step if the issues were “thoroughly investigated” outside the EIA procedure. However, in Champion Lord Carnwath warned against using analogous procedures instead of EIA as to do so “would subvert the purposes of the EIA Directive for that to be conducted outside the procedural framework (including the environment statement and consultation) set up by the Regulations” (at [45]). In this case, the general public does not have the right to be consulted on the developer’s reserved matters applications under conditions 21 and 22, and so the EIA procedure would provide the only opportunity for local people to be consulted on proposed measures relating to BSE contamination at this Site, as they were not set out in the reports submitted with the planning application. So, contrary to Mr Carpenter’s belief, an EIA procedure would not provide objectors with “another bite of the cherry”.

It is not entirely clear what Mr Carpenter meant by the case being quite “finely balanced” as he did not set out the factors which he found to be in favour of an EIA, but it is important to bear in mind that Lord Carnwath also advised in Champion that “[a]pplication of the precautionary principle, which underlies the EIA Directive, implies that cases of material doubt should generally be resolved in favour of EIA.” (at [51]).

In conclusion, I consider that the Defendant made the same error as in the Gillespie case, and thus his decision that EIA was not required was vitiated by a legal error.”)

Back to my main theme: when should a potential claimant notify a defendant authority that it is considered that grounds for a potential challenge have arisen? This wasn’t the issue in Burkett. Everyone was well aware of the potential claim, it was just a question as to when the proceedings should have been issued. What if Richard had kept quiet until the permission had been issued before raising any legal concerns? What would their lordships have made of that?

At present, that sort of behaviour is not the best way to impress a judge but we see it too often – where a prospective claimant identifies proposed grounds of challenge in a pre-action protocol letter only when the planning permission is finally issued and it is too late for the relevant authority and applicant to rectify the alleged defect, even if the grounds arose from a committee resolution many months previously and could have been dealt with by, for instance, a return to committee if only the point had been raised before the permission was issued and it was too late.

The Administrative Court’s pre-action protocol for judicial review, a “code of good practice” which “contains the steps which parties should generally follow before making a claim for judicial review”, says nothing expressly to discourage that approach, in that it is all at a general level that does not engage with the specific peculiarities of planning processes, where on a major scheme there can be significant delays between a resolution to grant and issue of the permission, due to subsequent negotiations in relation to the section 106 agreement and the possible need to refer the application to the Secretary of State and/or the Mayor of London:

“The aims of the protocol are to enable parties to prospective claims to—

(a) understand and properly identify the issues in dispute in the proposed claim and share information and relevant documents;

(b) make informed decisions as to whether and how to proceed;

(c) try to settle the dispute without proceedings or reduce the issues in dispute;

(d) avoid unnecessary expense and keep down the costs of resolving the dispute; and

(e) support the efficient management of proceedings where litigation cannot be avoided.”

“Where the use of the protocol is appropriate, the court will normally expect all parties to have complied with it in good time before proceedings are issued and will take into account compliance or non-compliance when giving directions for case management of proceedings or when making orders for costs”

My simple suggestion is for the pre-action protocol to be amended so as to advise prospective claimants that they should never “store up” prospective grounds of challenge until the planning permission is issued but make them known to the prospective defendant authority and potential interested parties without unreasonable delay and with the objective of giving the parties to address the grounds (if necessary by corrective administrative steps) before the planning permission is issued and before the authority is thereby functus officio ie before it is too late to undo the administrative step of issuing the permission.

And, if I may have a follow up suggestion, would it be so very difficult for there to be a publicly accessible website which identifies all judicial review proceedings which have been filed (even if the underlying papers are not immediately accessible)? Many agreements in relation to land transactions are conditional upon a planning permission being free from legal challenge. Each day matters in the context of the transaction and given the vagaries of document service, particularly in relation to interested parties, and the risks of relying on checking calls made to the court when large amounts of money are at stake for the client, surely there is a better way?

Simon Ricketts, 30 May 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Court Challenges Undo Previous Blog Posts: Westferry, Dill

No-one embarks lightly on litigation but there have been two striking examples this week of what it can achieve. Sometimes it doesn’t even need a hearing (first example) and sometimes it’s on the final roll of the dice (second example).

Westferry Printworks

The Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission, against his inspector’s recommendations, for a large development on Docklands – with the decision issued a day before the developer’s CIL liability would have increased by up to £50m – was an eye opener. I covered it, and Tower Hamlets’ reaction, in my 18 January 2020 blog post Westferry Printworks Decision: LPA Reaction Unprintable.

The Council followed through with its threat of a legal challenge to the decision, as did the Mayor of London.

It was frankly surprising to hear this week that the Secretary of State has consented to judgment. I do not think that the consent order itself, which would set out the reasoning agreed by the parties and sealed by the court, is yet in the public domain but there are these two press statements from those involved:

Westferry Printworks: Secretary of State Accepts “Apparent Bias” in His Decision and Consents to Judgment (Francis Taylor Building press statement, 21 May 2020) (FTB’s Melissa Murphy acted for the Mayor).

Council forces government to concede illegality in making decision on controversial Westferry Printworks scheme (London Borough of Tower Hamlets press statement, 22 May 2020) (Sasha White QC and Gwion Lewis have been acting for Tower Hamlets).

To quote from the FTB statement:

“The consent order reflects the fact that in pre-action correspondence, the Secretary of State explained that the decision letter was issued on 14 January 2020, rather than the following day, so that it would be issued before Tower Hamlets adopted its new local plan and CIL charging schedule. He accepted that the timing of the decision letter, thereby avoiding a substantial financial liability which would otherwise fall on the developer, would lead the fair minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility that he was biased in favour of the developer. He accepted that the decision letter was unlawful by reason of apparent bias and should be quashed. The Mayor/GLA’s challenge was therefore academic, but he agreed to pay their costs. “

Those of us not close to what happened can only speculate but why would the Secretary of State cave in rather than face a hearing? Was he worried as to what might be made public in a trawling over of internal correspondence and notes? Echoes of the Mayor’s recent consenting to judgment in the Kensington Forum case (see my 14 March 2020 blog post, London, Friday the 13th).

The appeal will now need to be redetermined and, which is an expensive consequence for the developer of these events, even if the appeal is allowed second time around, the higher CIL figure will be payable.

Dill

I recounted this saga, about a lost pair of urns which were the subject of a listed building enforcement notice, at the time of the Court of Appeal ruling (see my 1 December 2018 blog post Is It A Listed Building? No Statuary Right Of Appeal). I still like the title to the post but the rest of it is now out of date – the effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dill v Secretary of State (Supreme Court, 20 May 2020) was basically to remove the word “no” from my blog post: in defending a listed building enforcement appeal it is now possible to raise the argument that the listed building is not in fact a building (and the court gives some guidance as to what constitutes a “building” for these purposes). See also this excellent summary: Supreme Court rules on the meaning of listed building (39 Essex Chambers, 20 May 2020 – Richard Harwood QC appeared for Mr Dill, instructed by Simon Stanion at Shakespeare Martineau).

Aside from the substantive legal points, which are important, the interesting thing about the case for me is that persistence paid off. The inspector found against him, Singh J at first instance found against him, the Court of Appeal found against him but Mr Dill and his legal team did not give up. The costs of losing would no doubt have been as significant for Mr Dill as the CIL consequences for Tower Hamlets in Westferry.

And whilst the outcome of the case did not remove the spectre for Mr Dill of continued battles – the listed building enforcement notice appeal would now need to redetermined – Lord Carnwath concluded his final judgment before retiring from the Supreme Court with these words:

I understand that this will be deeply frustrating for Mr Dill. There is as I understand it no suggestion that he acted other than in good faith in disposing of items which he believed to be his own disposable property, and had been so treated by his family for several decades. Since this problem was first drawn to his attention by the local authority in April 2015 he has been attempting to obtain a clear ruling on that issue. On the view I have taken, that opportunity has been wrongly denied to him for five years. Even if his appeal were ultimately to fail, the practicability of restoring the vases to their previous location in the grounds of Idlicote House is uncertain. Accordingly, this court’s formal order for remittal should not prevent the respondents from giving serious consideration to whether in all the circumstances it is fair to Mr Dill or expedient in the public interest to pursue this particular enforcement process any further.”

Concluding thoughts

Well done to the successful claimants and legal teams in both cases. But “snakes and ladders” and “final roll of the dice” analogies are not far off the mark, are they? How to arrive at a system that is more simple and not dependent on expensive, uncertain litigation? Perhaps by reducing the politics (removing the ability for the Secretary of State to recover appeals?), certainly by trying to make sure that legal principles are simpler (if you do the maths, in Dill one inspector and four judges were overruled by five judges, over those narrow “legal exam” questions, following submissions prepared by five barristers and their associated legal teams – the whole process ultimately to be paid for by us, the tax payer, save for those costs which Mr Dill cannot recover).

Simon Ricketts, 23 May 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Out Of Time

Cases about missed time limits give many of us sleepless nights, so (rapid eye movement) you might want to look away now.

I’m fairly sure that Laing J’s judgment from last September in R (Bellamile Limited) v Ashford Borough Council (Laing J, 19 September 2019), about a missed deadline for challenging a local plan under section 113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, only appeared online last week. I’ll deal with that after belatedly bringing you up to date as to what happened in the Croke litigation saga after my 7 April 2018 blog post Fawlty Powers: When Is A Permission Safe From Judicial Review?

Croke

At the time I wrote that blog post, Mr Croke, who had missed the deadline for making a challenge under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to an inspector’s decision to allow a planning appeal, had secured permission from the Court of Appeal to appeal from a ruling of the High Court that the deadline should not extended.

The full hearing subsequently took place in October 2018. The facts are set out in the judgment, R (Croke) v Secretary of State (Court of Appeal, 1 February 2019):

Mr Croke was aware that the six-week period under section 288 expired on 23 March 2016, which was the Wednesday before the Easter Bank Holiday. He was also aware that on each working day – that is, on every day from Monday to Friday – the doors of the Administrative Court Office in the Royal Courts of Justice are closed at 4.30 p.m. He intended to go to the court office himself on 23 March. But he missed his train at Haddenham and Thame Parkway railway station, and knowing he would not be able to get to the court office before it closed, he sent an email to Mr Miller asking him to lodge the application on his behalf. In his letter to the court dated 26 April 2016 Mr Croke said he “returned home and emailed the Application, signed Statement of Facts and Grounds and a copy of the Decision being challenged, to Mr … Miller, who was located just a few minutes from the Court and who agreed to act for [him] in submitting the application on his behalf”. However, his attempt to get the Statement of Facts and Grounds to Mr Miller by email at 3.59 p.m. failed, because he mistyped Mr Miller’s email address. He eventually succeeded in sending the document to Mr Miller at 4.06 p.m. Mr Miller said in his witness statement (in paragraph 1):

“1. … I did … at 16.25 hrs attended [sic] at Royal Courts of Justice … on behalf of the claimant, in an attempt to seal the section 288 on behalf of the claimant; I was refused entry by security. The adult male security guard stated the counters were closed.”

In his letter of 26 April 2016 Mr Croke added this:

“… Despite [Mr Miller’s] pleading with them to allow him to proceed to the counter he was refused entry. …”.

At 5.09 p.m. Mr Miller sent an email to Mr Croke to tell him what had happened.

On 24 March, Maundy Thursday, Mr Croke himself went to the Administrative Court Office, arriving there at about 3.25 p.m. There was a queue. Mr Croke reached the front of the queue at about 5 p.m. and attempted to file his application using a standard Part 8 claim form (form N208). A member of the court staff told him he had used the wrong form and would have to file a Planning Court claim form (form N208PC) instead. He gave Mr Croke form N208PC but refused his request that he be allowed to complete it and file it straight away. He told him to return with the completed form N208PC on the next working day. Mr Croke did so on 29 March 2016, the Tuesday after the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, filing his application on the correct form.”

The two issues were (1) whether the statutory period for challenging the Secretary of State’s decision could be extended by a single day from 23 to 24 March 2016 and (2) if so whether from 24 to 29 March 2016.

Traditionally, time limit provisions, such as the six weeks deadline in section 288 for commencing proceedings, are absolute (although where the last day is a day when the court is closed the deadline is extended to the following day – the so-called Kaur v Russell principle – and the deadline is also in principle capable of being extended where there would otherwise be “an unjustifiable violation of human rights”). The position is less absolute where there is an error in a claim form (or the wrong claim form is used) but the filing is within time – the court has discretion to allow the error to be corrected.

Mr Croke argued that the Kaur v Russell principle should be extended to a claimant a further working day “where a prospective litigant had been inside the court building within normal court working hours but had then been prevented from lodging his or her claim on that day by some action or inaction on the part of staff employed within the building, or by some other unforeseen event within the responsibility of the court over which he or she had no control, that day should be treated as being a “dies non”. This would also apply, for example, to a failure of the court’s IT system that had the same effect. Certainty for all parties involved in the proceedings could be safeguarded by ensuring that a time limit would never be extended by more than a single day, and by requiring a litigant in this situation to put all parties with standing on notice, so that they would not rely on the decision under challenge – as Mr Croke had done in a letter to the council dated 23 March 2016. Mr Croke did not seek to support his argument with a submission that the court would in any event have a discretion to extend the statutory time limit on human rights grounds.”

The court did not consider that there was any justification for extending the principle. “To extend it to accommodate the unfortunate facts of a particular case such as this would be to undermine it.” The court went on to consider whether it should exercise a discretion to extend time, on human rights grounds but saw no basis for this. The six weeks’ deadline was contrasted with extradition proceedings: “The relevant documents here would have not been hard to assemble; they should all have been in Mr Croke’s possession. And the drafting of the grounds would not have been an onerous task, even for an applicant who had not instructed a lawyer to do it. This is in stark contrast to the situation of the appellant in Pomiechowski who was in custody, facing extradition, and had only seven days to make his appeal.”

The question of whether there could be a further extension from 24 to 29 March 2016 was accordingly academic, although the court was sympathetic in the circumstances, there having been errors on the part of the court on terms of the references to prescribed forms in its guidance, and given that the form which Mr Croke used contained the “essential content, including the grounds on which the challenge was made”.

So near and yet so far.

Bellamile

R (Bellamile Limited) v Ashford Borough Council (Laing J, 19 September 2019) relates to a claim, made out of time, seeking to challenge the adoption of the Ashford local plan. The facts are set out in detailed and plain terms at paragraphs 8 to 20 but can be summarised as follows:

The last day for making the challenge was 4 April 2019. A paralegal at the firm acting for the claimant took the claim bundle to the Administrative Court at about 3.35 on that last day. She had a cheque for £154, which is the right fee for judicial review claims, but is the wrong fee for a statutory review claim (which this was). She was turned away on the basis that the fee should have been £528. An email went back to the solicitor dealing with the matter from another paralegal communicating some internally contradictory information, suggesting that a different court form (one for a judicial review claim, which this wasn’t) was required as well as the higher fee.

On 5 April 2019, the day after the time limit, the claim was filed using a judicial review claim form and the judicial review fee was paid (£154). The solicitor subsequently on 13 May 2019 asked the court to treat the claim as if it had been made under the statutory review claim procedure, but without any “application for an extension of time for filing, production of the replacement claim form, or any offer of the correct fee at that stage”. These were provided on 23 May, with a request for an extension of time.

In her judgment, after rehearsing these facts, Laing J first deals with the substantive grounds of challenge to the plan and rejects them – so the question of whether the court had jurisdiction to hear the claim in the first place was potentially only of academic interest. However she goes on to consider whether the claim was out of time, reviewing the previous cases, including Croke.

First, she rejects any suggestion that the merits of a claim are relevant to the exercise of any exceptional jurisdiction to extend time.

Secondly, she finds that there is nothing in the statutory scheme for challenging local plans which gives rise to a discretion to extend on human rights grounds. But in any event she is not satisfied that the claimant has “personally done all that he can to bring and notify the claim timeously”, pointing to various unexplained gaps in the evidence before the court and lack of contemporaneous evidence as to what actually happened on that last filing date.

Out of time.

It’s surprising how often these sorts of issues arise – memories for instance of late, and therefore rejected, challenges to the Thames Tideway Tunnel development consent order (Challenge by council to London super-sewer plans dismissed as “out of time” Local Government Lawyer, 19 January 2015 and also the “Blue Green” case – since when the deadline under the Planning Act 2008 for challenges has been amended, but the basic pitfalls still remain).

Simon Ricketts, 21 February 2020

Personal views, et cetera

Urgent Agenda/Urgenda

There appears to be a new domestic political urgency about climate change (to the extent that there is space for anything other than the B word). After saying as little as possible about the politics, the focus of this blog post is on law, and specifically, climate change litigation, although as can be the case with some constitutional law cases (not to mention judicial reviews in our little Planning Court world), climate change law is an area where the purpose of the proceedings, succeed or fail, is often simply to change the politics.

The politics

Party members backed a radical “Green New Deal” motion at last week’s Labour party conference Labour set to commit to net zero emissions by 2030 (Guardian, 24 September 2019). If that is to form part of the next manifesto, some serious thinking is going to be required as to how to turn headlines into costed, politically and socially acceptable reality, but the starting gun has perhaps been fired.

Ahead of the Conservative party conference this week, as I write this morning we are waiting for a series of Government announcements, trailed overnight in pieces such as ‘21st Century Conservatism’: Tories unveil fresh wave of net zero measures (Business Green, 28 September 2019) and Tories ignore tough climate change recommendations in 2050 net zero plan, but promise nuclear fusion instead (Independent, 28 September 2019), which follows Theresa May’s June 2019 tightening of the minimum 80% reduction against 1990 levels figure in the Climate Change Act 2008 Act to 100% ie net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, with an announcement on 12 June 2019 and the making of the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 on 26 June 2019. The amended target excluded international aviation and shipping pending further analysis and international engagement. The Committee on Climate Change on 24 September 2019 published advice to the Secretary of State for Transport as to how emissions from these sectors could be brought within the 2050 target.

UN

It was of course also the UN Climate Action Summit last week, with a series of actions announced, trackable via this detailed portal.

Convention on the Rights of the Child petition

Greta Thunberg announced at the UN that proceedings were being brought under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey, as G20 countries which are alleged not to have kept previously made pledges in international climate change conventions and agreements. The detailed petition (96 pages of reasoned argument, with evidence) to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (which monitors states’ compliance with the Convention) alleges that:

⁃ “each respondent has failed to prevent foreseeable human rights harms caused by climate change by reducing its emissions at the “highest possible ambition.” Each respondent is delaying the steep cuts in carbon emissions needed to protect the lives and welfare of children at home and abroad.”

⁃ “as members of the G20, which makes up 84% of all global emissions, each respondent has failed to use all available legal, diplomatic, and economic means to protect children from the life-threatening carbon pollution of the major emitters (China, the U.S., the E.U., and India) and other G20 members. As G20 members, the respondents have diplomatic, legal, and economic tools at their disposal. Yet, none of the respondents have used, much less exhausted, all reasonable measures to protect children’s rights from the major emitters”.

By recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change, the respondents have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights to life (Article 6), health (Article 24), and culture (Article 30) and are thus violating the Convention. Under the Convention, states must “limit ongoing and future damage” to these rights, including those caused by environmental threats.”

The five states were selected as the five largest emitters of carbon that are signatories to the Convention. China, USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia are not signatories.

Obviously, steps like these are taken for a variety of motives – direct legal redress is unlikely, but it all adds to the political pressure and of course shines a more direct light publicly on the relevant issues. It also made me realise that I should perhaps write this follow up to my 10 August 2019 climate change blog post The Big CC (which, I’m sorry, was a bit of a monster) to reference some of the other climate change litigation that we have been seeing.

Heathrow

The appeals from the Heathrow court rulings that I summarised in my 4 May 2019 blog post Lessons From The Heathrow Cases will be heard by the Court of Appeal on 17, 18, 22, 23, 24 & 25 October 2019. They will be live streamed.

Whilst the attacks by the various claimants to the Secretary of State’s decision to designate the Airports National Policy Statement were wide-ranging, challenges brought by Plan B Earth and Friends of the Earth focused on climate change arguments.

Plan B Earth sought to establish that “government policy” to be taken into account in designating the NPS included a commitment to the Paris Agreement limit in temperature rise to 1.5oC and “well below” 2oC. The Secretary of State acted unlawfully in not taking into account that commitment; and in taking into account an immaterial consideration, namely the global temperature limit by 2050 of 2oC above the pre-industrial level which, by the time of the designation, had been scientifically discredited as recognised by the UK Government as a party to the Paris Agreement and other announcements of support for the 1.5oC limit upon which the Paris Agreement was based (Plan B Earth Ground 1).

However, the Divisional Court held that “the Secretary of State was not obliged to have foreshadowed a future decision as to the domestic implementation of the Paris Agreement by way of a change to the criteria set out in the CCA 2008 which can only be made through the statutory process; and, indeed, he may have been open to challenge if he had proceeded on a basis inconsistent with the current statutory criteria. Nor was he otherwise obliged to have taken into account the Paris Agreement limits or the evolving knowledge and analysis of climate change that resulted in that Agreement.”

Plan B Earth also sought to argue that the “Secretary of State erred and failed to act in accordance with section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which requires legislation to be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the ECHR rights, by failing to read and give effect to the phrase in section 5(8) of the PA 2008, “Government policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”, as including the Paris Agreement” and that “in any event, irrespective of the terms of the PA 2008, the Secretary of State acted irrationally in taking into account the discredited 2oC limit and not taking into account the 1.5oC limit to which, by the time of the designation, the Government was committed.” Both grounds were also rejected.

Friends of the Earth argued, unsuccessfully, that the NPS did not adequately explain how the 2050 carbon target as set out in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 had been taken into account and /or that in a number of respects the NPS was “internally contradictory or otherwise unclear” as to its compatibility with the 2050 emissions target.

They also argued that section 10 of the Climate Change Act 2008 “requires the Secretary of State, on the basis of up to date information and analysis, to take into account the ability of future generations to meet their needs, which includes taking into account international agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the underlying science of climate change which bear upon that question.” However, the court held that “international commitments were a consideration in respect of which he had a discretion as to whether he took them into account or not.

It is well-established that where a decision-maker has a discretion as to whether to take into account a particular consideration, a decision not to take it into account is challengeable only on conventional public law grounds. In our view, given the statutory scheme in the CCA 2008 and the work that was being done on if and how to amend the domestic law to take into account the Paris Agreement, the Secretary of State did not arguably act unlawfully in not taking into account that Agreement when preferring the NWR Scheme and in designating the ANPS as he did. As we have described, if scientific circumstances change, it is open to him to review the ANPS; and, in any event, at the DCO stage this issue will be re-visited on the basis of the then up to date scientific position.

Lastly, Friends of the Earth argued unsuccessfully that the obligations of the Paris Agreement should have been taken into account in the environmental report that was prepared for the purposes of the strategic environmental assessment that informed the Secretary of State’s decision to designate the NPS.

Generally, the passages in the judgment in relation to climate change (paragraphs 558 to 660) are well worth reading. Will the Court of Appeal hold to the same line?

Plan B Earth “carbon target” litigation

Plan B Earth had previously brought a challenge to the Secretary of State’s refusal to revise the 2050 carbon target under the 2008 Act, on the basis that he was obliged to do so following the Paris Agreement.

The proceedings, Plan B Earth v Secretary of State (Supperstone J, 20 July 2018), were dismissed as unarguable.

One of the grounds of challenge was that the Secretary of State’s refusal to amend the 2050 target constitutes a violation of the claimants’ human rights. “The Claimants rely on the rights conferred by Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR, and by Article 1 of the First Protocol, both individually and in conjunction with Article 14. Mr Crow submits that in so far as the Secretary of State is acting inconsistently with his Treaty obligations and with general principles of international law, he is in breach of his positive obligations to uphold the Claimants’ Convention rights. This ground, Mr Crow acknowledges, raises a novel issue under the HRA 1998. However he observes that it is difficult to conceive of any issue that would be of greater significance to each member of the British public than the threat of climate change, which the Government has acknowledged as constituting an “existential threat”. In this context, he submits that the Government’s delay is inexcusable (Ground 4).

Mr Palmer submits that the decision not to amend the 2050 target at this time does not amount to an interference with any identifiable victim’s rights under any of the Articles relied upon. Mr Crow accepts there is no interference with any identifiable victim’s rights, but submits that there has been a violation of those rights, which have an environmental dimension. The Claimants do not identify any interference to which that decision gives rise, but only to the effects of climate change generally. The violation arises, it is said, because of the failure of the Secretary of State to take proper preventive measures. I reject this submission. The Government is committed to set a net zero emission target at the appropriate time. I agree with Mr Palmer that this is an area where the executive has a wide discretion to assess the advantages and disadvantages of any particular course of action, not only domestically but as part of an evolving international discussion. The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to the advice of the Committee, that now is not the time to revise the 2050 carbon target. That decision is not arguably unlawful, and accordingly the human rights challenge is not sustainable.”

Permission to appeal was refused by the Court of Appeal on 22 January 2019.

Urgenda

It is interesting to contrast these two rulings with the Dutch proceedings brought by campaign group, Urgenda. As summarised by the LSE/Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the Hague Court of Appeal ruled (unofficial English translation, 9 October 2018) “that by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by end-2020, the Dutch government is acting unlawfully in contravention of its duty of care under Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR. The court recognized Urgenda’s claim under Article 2 of the ECHR, which protects a right to life, and Article 8 of the ECHR, which protects the right to private life, family life, home, and correspondence. The court determined that the Dutch government has an obligation under the ECHR to protect these rights from the real threat of climate change. The court rejected the government’s argument that the lower court decision constitutes “an order to create legislation” or violation of trias politica and the role of courts under the Dutch constitution. In response to these appeals, the court affirms its obligation to apply provisions with direct effect of treaties to which the Netherlands is party, including Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR. Further, the court found nothing in Article 193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that prohibits a member state from taking more ambitious climate action than the E.U. as a whole, nor that adaptation measures can compensate for the government’s duty of care to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, nor that the global nature of the problem excuses the Dutch government from action.

An appeal was heard by the Dutch Supreme Court in May 2019 and its ruling is anticipated before the end of the year.

The end of the year? I think they need a Lady Hale.

Simon Ricketts, 28 September 2019

Personal views, et cetera

No Time To Be 21: Where Are We With Aarhus Costs Protection?

As with blog posts, it is helpful for legislation to have a snappy title.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters is therefore better known as the Aarhus Convention, after the city in Denmark where it was signed on 25 June 1998.

It currently has 47 parties. The UK ratified it in February 2005, as did the EU.

The Convention has three pillars:

⁃ access to information

⁃ public participation in decision making

⁃ access to justice

You will know that the Aarhus Convention requires that access to justice in environmental matters should be “be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive”, a challenging requirement in jurisdictions such as ours where access to justice in environmental matters frequently relies upon access to the High Court and appellate courts thereafter, and where processes are almost by definition prohibitively expensive – not just your own lawyers’ costs (cough) but, if the dice roll the wrong way, your liability for those of the defendant authority.

I last properly blogged on Parliament’s, and the English courts system’s, response to that challenge in my blog post dated 11 March 2017, Aarhus: Caps In The Air Again.

I agreed to speak on this subject at the Kingsland Conference event at King’s College London arranged for this Tuesday to mark the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Convention. If this post whets your appetite to hear that day from much more knowledgeable people than me on every aspect of the Convention’s three pillars, then do sign up.

In itself, the Convention has no direct effect in domestic law and its enforcement is indirect, at member state level via meetings of the parties to the Convention and non-binding communications by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee. I say “in itself” because it does have direct effect in domestic law via specific EU directives in relation to environmental protection, which was the basis for the European Court of Justice’s preliminary ruling in Edwards (CJEU, 11 April 2013).

At the time of my March 2017 blog post the Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2017 had just come into force, which tightened up the regime in various ways.

The claimant’s default cap against exposure to the defendant’s legal costs in an Aarhus Convention claim) is still £5k where the claimant is an individual and otherwise £10k, with the default cap on how much the claimant can claim if successful still capped at £35k. The caps apply to each party where there are multiple claimants or multiple defendants.

An Aarhus Convention claim is basically defined as a claim brought by a member of the public, challenging the legality of a decision on grounds which concern environmental matters as defined in Articles 9 (1), (2) and (3) or the Convention, whether the claim is by judicial review, or under two specific forms of statutory review:

⁃ section 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (challenges to decisions in relation to enforcement notice appeals)

⁃ section 65 of the Town and Country Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ((challenges to decisions in relation to listed building enforcement notice appeals)

The 2017 changes introduced the requirement that, where a claimant brings a claim and is seeking Aarhus costs protection it must say so on the claim form and must file a schedule of financial resources. The court may remove or vary the cap in these circumstances if satisfied that “to do so would not make the costs of the proceedings prohibitively expensive for the claimant“.

Proceedings are to be considered prohibitively expensive if their likely costs (including any court fees which are payable by the claimant) either—

(a) exceed the financial resources of the claimant, or

(b) are objectively unreasonable having regard to –

(i) the situation of the parties;

(ii) whether the claimant has a reasonable prospect of success;

(iii) the importance of what is at stake for the claimant;

(iv) the importance of what is at stake for the environment;

(v) the complexity of the relevant law and procedure; and

(vi) whether the claim is frivolous“.

Where the court considers the financial resources of the claimant, “it must have regard to any financial support which any person has provided or is likely to provide to the claimant”.

Three aspects of the 2017 rule amendments were challenged by the the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth in R (RSPB) v Secretary of State for Justice (Dove J, 15 September 2017):

1. The ability for the court to vary costs caps at any stage in the litigation would not meet the EU law requirement for “reasonable predictability

2. No express provision for hearings to be in private when a claimant or a third party supporter’s financial details may be discussed and examined.

3. Uncertainty as to whether the claimant’s own costs of bringing the litigation should be included in any assessment of their financial resources.

Dove J’s judgment is essential reading for an understanding of the background to costs capping in environmental matters, including the domestic and CJEU authorities.

He found against the claimants on the first ground but the issue was addressed in any event by Parliament in the Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2018 which tightened up the procedural rules to make it clear that, save where there is a significant change in circumstances, variation of the caps can only be considered by the court if either the applicant had so requested in his claim form or if the defendant had so requested in his acknowledgement of service.

He found for the claimants on the second ground and the rules have again been changed to specify that hearings in relation to examination of claimants’ financial details must be heard in private.

He found that it was unnecessary to make a formal declaration to deal with the third ground but considered that it was clear that the court may indeed take account of a claimant’s reasonable costs in determining whether proceedings are “prohibitively expensive“.

The 2017 rule amendments defined “environmental matters” by reference to matters falling within the scope of Article 9 (1) to (3) of the Convention. I had wrongly assumed in my previous blog that the effect might be to limit the scope of the procedure but that has not been the case, following the broad meaning given by the Court of Appeal in Secretary of State v Venn (Court of Appeal, 27 November 2014).

I had also wondered whether the reference to “members of the public” in the amended rules might exclude parish councils from seeking Aarhus costs protection, but that assumption may also have been misplaced. At the permission stage of Crondall Parish Council v Secretary of State (Dove J, 14 May 2019), deputy judge John Howell QC accepted that the parish council was indeed a “member of the public”.

The 2017 rule amendments do not extend the automatic costs capping process to the Court of Appeal and beyond. It will be for the appellate court to consider whether the costs of the appeal proceedings will be prohibitively expensive for a party which was a claimant (with no guidance as to how the costs of previous stages in the litigation are to be taken into account).

The UK is still under some international pressure as to its approach to compliance. In its September 2017 decision VI/8k, the Economic Commission for Europe noted that “while the 2017 amendments to the cost protection system in England and Wales introduced some positive improvements, the 2017 amendments overall appear to have moved [the UK] further away from meeting the requirements of its 2014 decision V/9n, namely that the UK should:

“(a) Further review its system for allocating costs in all court procedures subject to article 9, and undertake practical and legislative measures to ensure that the allocation of costs in all such cases is fair and equitable and not prohibitively expensive;

(b) Further consider the establishment of appropriate assistance mechanisms to remove or reduce financial barriers to access to justice;

(d) Put in place the necessary legislative, regulatory and other measures to establish a clear, transparent and consistent framework to implement article 9, paragraph 4, of the Convention”.

Furthermore, “by failing to ensure that private nuisance proceedings within the scope of article 9, paragraph 3, of the Convention, and for which there is no fully adequate alternative procedure, are not prohibitively expensive, the Party concerned fails to comply with article 9, paragraph 4, of the Convention“.

There is also a complaint which is being investigated by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee. It is based on (1) the exclusion from current system of automatic costs capping for section 288 challenges of planning appeal decisions and (2) the risk of public disclosure of claimants’ financial means.

The complainant sets out the position as follows:

In 2008 a property developer sought to obtain planning permission to build an estate of 18 houses in open countryside outside of Ashover, Derbyshire. Permission to carry out this development was refused. The developer then reapplied for planning permission to develop 26 houses in 2014 and again in 2015. These applications were both refused. An appeal was made against the most recent decision and an Inspector was appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to hear the evidence and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. After hearing all evidence over a four-day period and visiting the site the Inspector recommended that the appeal be dismissed and planning permission be refused. The Secretary of State disagreed with his Inspector’s recommendation, allowed the appeal, and granted planning permission.

Challenging the Decision

Objectors to the development sought a legal opinion on challenging the Secretary of State’s decision. It was the opinion of counsel that challenging the Secretary of State’s decision would be extremely costly and could fail. The costs protection regime for “Aarhus claims” would not be available for challenges to decisions of the Secretary of State even though the only difference rendering it inapplicable was the identity of the decision-maker. As a result of the uncertainty as to costs no member of the public had the appetite to challenge the decision.

We have been made aware that amendments were made to Part 45 Section VII of England and Wales’ Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) (“The 2017 Amendments”) on 28th February 2017. These mean that any claimant or a third party supporter of a claim now risks public disclosure of their financial means.”

DEFRA’s response dated 8 March 2019 is interesting:

1. Section 288 challenges will be brought within the scope of the rules later this year.

2. The new Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2019 change the criteria as to when a hearing will be held in private but one of the criteria is whether “it involves confidential information (including information relating to personal financial matters) and publicity would damage that confidentiality“.

There do remain various open questions, for instance:

1. Post-Brexit, how will we see the Government flesh out the principle outlined in the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill of “access to justice in relation to environmental matters“?

2. Does the current process give claimants “reasonable predictability“?

2. What are the practical risks for a defendant, in terms of potentially thereby elongating proceedings, in seeking to vary or remove a costs cap?

3. What effects are the changes having in practice on potential claimants as well as third party funders?

4. Where there is no Aarhus costs protection, are we going to see more applications for security for costs by defendants: the £250,000 required of Heathrow Hub Limited for example in the recent Heathrow proceedings (to be heard in the Court of Appeal in November) or the £60,000 required of the claimant in We Love Hackney v London Borough of Hackney (Farbey J, 17 April 2019).

Happy birthday, Aarhus Convention. Let them eat cake?

Simon Ricketts, 22 June 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Slow Claim Coming: Limiting JRs

To live outside the law, you must be honest

(Bob Dylan)

This blog post covers:

⁃ the principles to be applied in relation to bringing a late claim for judicial review

⁃ the Environmental Audit Committee’s scrutiny of the enforcement and JR aspects of the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill

⁃ The Supreme Court’s ruling on legislative provisions that seek to exclude the right to legal challenge.

Exciting, not?

Late JR claims

My 7 April 2018 blog post Fawlty Powers: When Is A Permission Safe From Judicial Review? looked at the whole question of JR time limits and referred to the High Court’s ruling in the Thornton Manor case, where the court allowed a claimant to bring a claim for judicial review more than five and a half years after the decision complained of.

That ruling has now been upheld in R (Thornton Hall Hotel Limited) v Wirral MBC (Court of Appeal, 30 April 2019).

Do read my previous blog post, or more reliably the judgment itself, for an account of the exceptional facts with which the court was faced. In deciding whether the judge was wrong to extend time for the claim to be brought, the Court of Appeal helpfully set out the principles to be applied:

(1) When a grant of planning permission is challenged by a claim for judicial review, the importance of the claimant acting promptly is accentuated. The claimant must proceed with the “greatest possible celerity” – because a landowner is entitled to rely on a planning permission granted by a local planning authority exercising its statutory functions in the public interest.”

(2)  When faced with an application to extend time for the bringing of a claim, the court will seek to strike a fair balance between the interests of the developer and the public interest (see Sales L.J. in Gerber, at paragraph 46). Where third parties have had a fair opportunity to become aware of, and object to, a proposed development – as would have been so through the procedure for notification under the Town and Country Planning (General Development Management Procedure) Order 2010 (“the 2010 Order”) – objectors aggrieved by the grant of planning permission may reasonably be expected to move swiftly to challenge its lawfulness before the court. Landowners may be expected to be reasonably alert to proposals for development in the locality that may affect them. When “proper notice” of an application for planning permission has been given, extending time for a legal challenge to be brought “simply because an objector did not notice what was happening” would not be appropriate. To extend time in such a case “so that a legal objection could be mounted by someone who happened to remain unaware of what was going on until many months later would unfairly prejudice the interests of a developer who wishes to rely upon a planning permission which appears to have been lawfully granted for the development of his land and who has prudently waited for a period before commencing work to implement the permission to ensure that no legal challenge is likely to be forthcoming …” (see Sales L.J. in Gerber, at paragraph 49). When planning permission has been granted, prompt legal action will be required if its lawfulness is to be challenged, “unless very special reasons can be shown ...””

“(3)  Developers are generally entitled to rely on a grant of planning permission as valid and lawful unless a court has decided otherwise (see Sales L.J. in Gerber, at paragraph 55). A developer is not generally required “to monitor the lawfulness of the steps taken by a local planning authority at each stage of its consideration of a planning application””.

“(4)  What is required to satisfy the requirement of promptness “will vary from case to case”, and “depends on all the relevant circumstances”. If there is a “strong case for saying that the permission was ultra vires”, the court “might in the circumstances be willing to grant permission to proceed”, but “given the delay, it requires a much clearer-cut case than would otherwise have been necessary” (see Keene L.J. in Finn-Kelcey, at paragraphs 25 to 29).”

“(5)  The court will not generally exercise its discretion to extend time on the basis of legal advice that the claimant might or should have received.”

“(6)  Once the court has decided that an extension of time for issuing a claim is justified and has granted it, the question cannot be re-opened when the claim itself is heard.”

“(7)  The court’s discretion under section 31(6)(b) requires an assessment of all relevant considerations, including the extent of hardship or prejudice likely to be suffered by the landowner or developer if relief is granted, compared with the hardship or prejudice to the claimant if relief is refused, and the extent of detriment to good administration if relief is granted, compared with the detriment to good administration resulting from letting a public wrong go unremedied if relief is refused…8)  It being a matter of judicial discretion, this court will not interfere with the first instance judge’s decision unless it is flawed by a misdirection in law or by a failure to have regard to relevant considerations or the taking into account of considerations that are irrelevant, or the judge’s conclusion is clearly wrong and beyond the scope of legitimate judgment

“(8)  It being a matter of judicial discretion, this court will not interfere with the first instance judge’s decision unless it is flawed by a misdirection in law or by a failure to have regard to relevant considerations or the taking into account of considerations that are irrelevant, or the judge’s conclusion is clearly wrong and beyond the scope of legitimate judgment”

Applying these principles:

The extension of time sought in this case – an extension of more than five years from the date of the challenged decision – is, to use the judge’s word, “extreme”. That is undeniable. As the authorities show, it would only be in the most unusual circumstances that such an extension would ever be granted (see, for example, Schiemann L.J. in Corbett, at paragraph 14; and Hobhouse L.J. in ex p. Oxby, at pp.294 to 296 and 302 to 303). It is, in our view, very important to emphasise this. One cannot say, however, that the court’s power to extend time is automatically extinguished after any given period has elapsed. We are concerned here with a judicial discretion, not a fixed statutory limitation. A clear theme in the relevant case law, as one would expect, is that in every case where delay has occurred the court must look closely at all the relevant facts in the round. The facts will vary widely from case to case. In Corbett a total delay of six years was not in itself fatal to the granting of relief, but it was held that there was no longer a need to quash the planning permissions because they had in the meantime been modified by an order under section 100 of the 1990 Act, made by the Secretary of State, and a quashing order would deny the landowners the compensation due to them for the modification. In ex p. Oxby this court granted relief after a delay of about two years, during which the existence and facts of the unlawfulness infecting the local planning authority’s decision emerged. Generally, of course, very late challenges will not be entertained. However, as Sales L.J. said in Gerber (at paragraph 49), in a particular case there may be “special reasons” to justify the extension sought. To say, as this court did in Connors (at paragraph 87), that an exercise of judicial discretion to allow “very late challenges” to proceed in planning cases will “rarely be appropriate” implies that sometimes it may be appropriate – and necessary in the interests of justice.

There can be no doubt that the circumstances of this case, viewed as a whole, are extremely unusual. Indeed, we would go further. They are unique. The question for us, however, is whether, in combination, they can properly be said to amount to an exceptional case for extending time to allow the challenge to be brought before the court. In our view, in agreement with the judge, they clearly can.”

Factors in this case:

“The first point to be made, and a crucial one, is that the scope of the proceedings in this case is not the usual scope of a claim for judicial review in the planning context. As Mr Alan Evans for the council accepted, and as the judge recognised, it is beyond dispute that the planning permission under challenge ought not to have been issued without its conditions. It was issued in that form without lawful authority.

“This is not a case […] in which the practical effect of the unlawfulness was immediate upon the grant of planning permission.”

“We accept, as all three parties submit, that the council acted unlawfully in concealing its error. It initially attempted to put matters right by generating a fictitious decision notice and manipulating the planning register. Whether its intention was to reverse its error or to obscure it, the effect of the action it took was only to disguise what it had in fact done. It has not, however, resisted the claim. It could, of course, have done a good deal more than it has. It might, for example, have made use of its statutory power of revocation under section 97 of the 1990 Act, or its power to make a discontinuance order under section 102 – though this could have given rise to a claim for compensation by Thornton Holdings. It might have been able to deploy its powers of enforcement at an appropriate stage. It might have brought the matter before the court itself by a timely claim for judicial review issued in the name of a councillor – as was done, for example, in ex p. Oxby. It did none of those things, and even now it shows no such inclination. However, it now acknowledges that the decision notice it issued on 20 December 2011 was, and remains, clearly invalid. Far from resisting the challenge, or adopting a neutral stance, it has actively supported the claim, urged the judge to quash the planning permission, and has appeared in this court to resist the appeal. That is another highly abnormal feature of these proceedings.”

It is also, we think, a factor of considerable weight in this case that Thornton Holdings were well aware from the outset that the planning permission had been wrongly issued, and knew precisely what the council’s error had been.”

“In the circumstances, contrary to the argument presented to us by Mr Christopher Lockhart- Mummery Q.C. for Thornton Holdings, we cannot accept that they have suffered any material hardship or prejudice as a result of the delay in the claim being issued. Indeed, if anything, the delay worked in their favour, in the sense that it enabled them to take advantage of an unrestricted grant of planning permission that they knew the council had never resolved to grant. That too is a most unusual feature of this case, in sharp distinction to others – such as Finn-Kelcey, Gerber and Connors – where the court has rejected lengthy extensions of time. The reality is that, from December 2011 until the judge’s order, Thornton Holdings had the benefit of a more generous grant of planning permission than would have been so if the council had not mistakenly issued the decision notice it did. If at any stage they were concerned about the risk of the council’s error being discovered and a claim for judicial review being made, they decided to operate in the knowledge of that risk, and in spite of it.”

The late claim was allowed. But the court has set out its reasoning carefully, such that I cannot see that the ruling will in any way open the floodgates to a greater risk of late, unexpected, challenges.

OEP JRs

My 22 December 2018 blog post The Office For Environmental Protection covered DEFRA’s draft Environment (Principles and Governance Bill) and in particular the proposal in the draft Bill that the Office for Environmental Protection once established could bring judicial reviews in its own right, outside usual judicial review timescales.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has now published its report on its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill (25 April 2019). On the proposed judicial review procedure there is this passage in relation to the OEP’s proposed enforcement powers, including potential to seek judicial review:

The UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) told us the proposed notice procedures are very slow, with two-month time periods for response. It said that if a breach is serious or ongoing, this could be too long a delay before court action can be taken by the OEP. Tim Buley agreed that since the time limit for judicial review is very strict, “three months ordinarily, six weeks in some environmental contexts”, it would not be appropriate to have it at the end of the process while the OEP has been conducting its investigation and the harm may have already happened. UKELA supported the OEP having a power to make an emergency application for judicial review and Tim Buley said the OEP should have the ability to bring a judicial review at the start of the process. Professor Macrory outlined that it would be helpful for the OEP to have an additional power to be able to intervene in environmental judicial reviews undertaken by other parties. He said that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which has such powers under Equality Act 2006, has made very effective use of them.”

The Committee recommended as follows:

We recommend that:

The Bill should allow the Office for Environmental Protection to bring a judicial review at the start of the process in rare cases where a delay could cause further environmental harm.

The Bill should specify that the Office for Environmental Protection bringing enforcement proceedings does not prevent others who wish to bring a judicial review.

The Office for Environmental Protection should be given the power to act as an intervener in environmental judicial reviews undertaken by other parties.

Clauses 22 and 23 should be amended to include an obligation on the Office for Environmental Protection to act on responses to information or decision notices, or to explain to the complainant why no further action has been taken. This would provide a ratcheting approach to enforcement.

Overall, the enforcement procedure lacks imagination and the Government must consider alternative mechanisms. We have heard compelling evidence that there should be an expanded role for the First-tier Tribunal. This would help to resolve more cases before the need to apply for judicial review.

We recommend the Government looks further into a bespoke enforcement procedure and an expansion of the role and remit of the General Regulatory Chamber in the First-tier Tribunal. For example, where the Office for Environmental Protection is able to issue notices (at first advisory, then latterly binding) with a range of compliance recommendations, to which the public authority must then comply, or set out proportionate reasons why not. The Office for Environmental Protection would then be able to challenge a decision not to comply with the notice at the tribunal. The tribunal would undertake a substantive review of the authority’s decision not to comply with the notice. Any failure to comply with a decision should amount to contempt and be referable to the Upper Tribunal. Section 202 of the Data Protection Act 2018 provides a useful guide as to how this could be achieved in the legislation.”

Ouster clauses

Finally, superficially away from planning law but very relevant to bear in mind for any future re-framing of the system, the Supreme Court handed down judgment last week in R (Privacy International) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal (Supreme Court, 15 May 2019), a significant public law case as the legal effectiveness (or not) of “ouster” clauses in legislation, which seek to limit or remove rights to challenge in the courts matters carried out pursuant to the particular legislation. The strict six week time limit in judicial review in relation to decisions made pursuant to town and country planning legislation is of course a limitation. Such limitations have been held to be reasonable and permissible, as opposed to outright exclusions – held not to be legally effective by a 3 – 2 majority in the House of Lords in the 1968 Anisminic v Foreign Compensation Commission case.

The Privacy International case concerned the legal effectiveness or not of Parliament’s attempt in legislation to prevent legal challenges to decisions of the tribunal which hears complaints about, amongst other matters, general warrants granted to government agencies to intercept electronic communications.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (“IPT”) is a special tribunal established under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (“RIPA”) with jurisdiction to examine, among other things, the conduct of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters (“the intelligence services”). Section 67(8) provides:

“Except to such extent as the Secretary of State may by order otherwise provide, determinations, awards, orders and other decisions of the Tribunal (including decisions as to whether they have jurisdiction) shall not be subject to appeal or be liable to be questioned in any court.””

“There is an obvious parallel with the “ouster clause” considered by the House of Lords in the seminal case of Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147 (“Anisminic”). Section 4(4) of the Foreign Compensation Act 1950 provided:

“The determination by the commission of any application made to them under this Act shall not be called in question in any court of law.””

In the course of lengthy discussion in the judgments as to the extent of the courts’ power to override legislative limitations as to legal challenge, the planning system gets a quick specific mention:

“...the courts have not adopted a uniform approach, but have felt free to adapt or limit the scope and form of judicial review, so as to ensure respect on the one hand for the particular statutory context and the inferred intention of the legislature, and on the other for the fundamental principles of the rule of law, and to find an appropriate balance between the two. Even if this was not always the way in which the decisions were justified at the time, it may be seen as providing a sounder conceptual basis. Thus in the planning cases, it having been accepted that the statutory grounds cover all the traditional ground of judicial review, there is no difficulty in holding that the six-week time-limit provides a proportionate balance between effective judicial review, and the need for certainty to enable such decisions to be acted on with confidence.”

The Supreme Court held by a 4 – 3 majority that the absolute prohibition on legal challenge in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was not legally effective.

No doubt a blow to any future governments looking to sidestep the undoubted inconvenience to their activities that judicial review represents. But fundamentally important for all of us who worry how tempting it would be for the courts’ role as a check on the unjustified use of state power, to be neutralised in various areas of legislation.

Interesting to see that the Policy Exchange think tank, with its free market views on the planning system, popped up to denigrate the Supreme Court for allowing the appeal:

Professor Richard Ekins, head of thinktank Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project, said the ruling ‘undermines the rule of law and violates the sovereignty of parliament’.  He said: ‘A majority of the court has chosen to misinterpret an ouster clause – the statutory provision which expressly limits the High Court’s jurisdiction to review decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Parliament chose to limit judicial review by creating a specialist tribunal to consider complaints against the intelligence services. It is not the Supreme Court’s place to unravel this choice.'” (Law Society Gazette, 15 May 2019).

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Simon Ricketts, 18 May 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Pic courtesy Bob Dylan