The government has announced that the UK will vote on whether to leave or remain in the European Union on 23 June. Aside from that date, here are five other things we learned about the referendum within the last ten days…
Renewable energy has been subsidised in the UK for at least 25 years. However, the nature, scope and level of the subsidy has been subject to significant change over time. In recent years, due to a range of fiscal and political pressures on the government, various support schemes have been either scaled back or abandoned.
Government subsidies provide an incentive to invest in commercial activities which would otherwise be uneconomic. That is their point. So what happens if a business, having made those investments in the expectation of a subsidy, finds that it is then withdrawn with little or no warning? Does it have any legal right to a notice period, or compensation in lieu of one?
This was the question considered by the High Court in the recent case of Drax v HM Treasury, which has important implications for business planning in any industry which currently benefits from government financial support.
The problem with David Cameron’s long-awaited ‘deal’ with the rest of the EU, aside from the fact that it currently exists only as a set of proposals which will require the agreement of all 27 other member states, is that over the last year he somehow contrived to place on it a weight of expectation that it would always be unable to bear.
The proposals, announced by Council President, Donald Tusk, with a heavy-handed Shakespearean nod to the forthcoming EU referendum – ‘To be, or not to be together, that is the question…’ – are bound to disappoint anyone who fancied that they would signal a radical new direction in the UK’s relationship with the wider EU. But that unrealistic expectation also deflects attention from their most important feature.
Successive waves of public sector spending cuts imposed by UK central government since 2010 have generated a series of judicial reviews – the ‘cuts cases’. Many of these are challenges to the difficult choices that local authorities have had to make in reducing the provision of public services to stay within their shrinking budgets.
The cases are interesting not because they present a coherent narrative – they do not, although they certainly exhibit persistent themes – but because they test the boundaries of territory into which the courts have traditionally been reluctant to tread; namely whether to quash, on public law grounds, decisions which are driven by the need to allocate scarce resources between competing demands. As such, they tell us something about the considerable capabilities, but also the ongoing limits, of modern judicial review.
On 25 November 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, revealed the next wave of public sector ‘austerity’ at more or less the same time as a number of earlier cuts cases were receiving judgment. Both offer us some useful pointers to the future.
Each year, at least 1000 young women, but perhaps as many as twice that number, travel from Northern Ireland to another part of the United Kingdom in search of an abortion. They do so to avoid the criminal liability that (in most cases) still attaches to terminations of pregnancy in Northern Ireland, and to rely instead on the more liberal legal regime prevailing in England, Scotland and Wales.
Should they be entitled to obtain abortions free on the National Health Service?
The answer to this question, which was considered by the Court of Appeal in A (a child) v Secretary of State for Health, reveals the full extent to which, under the UK’s devolution settlement, the disaggregation of the NHS into four discrete health services – one for each of the four constituent territories* of the United Kingdom – is now legally entrenched. By implication, it also asks important questions about the effect of future devolution within England.
There are many things that seem unsatisfactory about the judgment of the High Court in RWE Generation v Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, apparently reflecting the judge’s own evident dissatisfaction with aspects of the claim.
However, in spite (or perhaps because) of this, the case has important things to say about how the courts treat discrimination claims in complex regulatory cases, both in the energy industry and beyond.
As everyone who practises in the field of public law knows, judicial review has a habit of giving rise to the occasional pyrrhic victory – the apparent success that is actually a defeat. This can happen for a range of reasons. Since relief is discretionary, it is not always granted even where unlawfulness has been made out. When it is granted, it will not necessarily change the ultimate outcome. And, occasionally, success can simply come too late for any effective remedy to be available.
This last situation is the one considered by the Supreme Court in Hunt v North Somerset Council, where the question that arose was how to deal with costs when the claimant won on the law, but got no effective remedy. Put simply, for costs purposes in public law cases, is a pyrrhic victory really a victory or actually a defeat?