The EU Referendum – Four Months to Go, Five Things We Learned

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…

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Understanding Parliamentary Purpose – Rights of Women, Statutory Interpretation and the Constitution

Civil legal aid is now available in such a limited category of cases that most practising lawyers will rarely (if ever) encounter it. So there is a risk that the interesting constitutional issue at the heart of the recent judgment in Rights of Women v The Lord Chancellor will fail to get the recognition it deserves.

In that case, the Court of Appeal declared unlawful a set of regulations that would have significantly limited the ability of victims of domestic violence to obtain legal aid. This briefly made the news headlines, before being displaced by the even bigger legal story of the same day, the Supreme Court’s conclusion (in Jogee) that the courts had been misapplying the law on criminal joint enterprise for the past thirty years.

However, aside from the importance of its impact in domestic abuse cases, Rights of Women is worth a second look because of its wider interest to anyone involved in making, relying on, or seeking to challenge delegated legislation.

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Drax v HM Treasury – How Green (or any other) Subsidies Can Be Withdrawn Without Notice

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 So what happens if a business, having made those investments in the expectation of a subsidy, finds that it is then withdrawn with little or no warning?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.

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Four Short Points on Interpretation

The rules of interpretation in public law, though apparently of little interest to academic lawyers, and never taught in law schools, are fundamental to the day-to-day work of anyone practising in the area.

This is not only because most public authorities operate within a statutory framework which must be properly understood if they are to act intra vires, but because they themselves generate huge volumes of written documents – orders, directions, regulations, consents, licences, authorisations, policies, approvals, determinations, guidance (and so on) – all of which fall to be interpreted within a public law context.

Because public law is, as Martin Loughlin of the LSE observes, ‘an autonomous discipline with its own distinctive methods and tasks’, its principles of interpretation differ in important respects from those applying to private law documents. In two cases decided on the same day, the Supreme Court has emphasised four important elements of these principles.

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Brief thoughts on David Cameron’s EU ‘deal’

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.

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Return of the Cuts, Lessons from the Cuts Cases

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.

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TfL v Uber – Transport, Regulation and Disruptive Technology

Technology develops rapidly. The law does not. In consequence, and with increasing frequency, new technology is being introduced into a legal environment that was not designed to accommodate it.

To what extent is the law self-adapting, addressing itself to technological solutions that could not even have been contemplated when it was originally written?

This was the question considered by the High Court in Transport for London v Uber London Ltd, a case which is interesting not only on its own facts, but also because it draws attention to how regulatory systems need to become more responsive in an era of rapid technological change.

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