The Article 50 Litigation – Why the UK Parliament Still Needs to Vote for (or against) Brexit

Edmund Burke, on being elected MP for Bristol, famously told his new constituents that ‘Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment’. This was his clever way of saying that he was going to make up his own mind about how to vote in the House of Commons, and not feel bound to do whatever the people of Bristol wanted.

The speech, made in 1774, has stood the test of time. It is the classic statement of an MP’s role in a representative democracy. And its sentiments are embodied in constitutional law – MPs have a duty to make up their own minds, even if they were given a clear message by the electorate in a referendum (see Moohan v Lord Advocate at [48]).

A lot of people who do not much like the idea of Brexit are placing a great deal of weight on this. They think that the EU referendum is not the end of the matter, that MPs still have to vote on whether the UK should leave the European Union, and that Parliament is in no way bound by the wishes of the majority as expressed in the referendum result.

This has led to the first piece of post-referendum litigation. But how far is it accurate?

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Can a Public Body Challenge its own Delegate?

A single interesting point of law emerges from the High Court judgment in South Staffordshire & Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust v St George’s Hospital Managers, summarised by the judge, Mr Justice Cranston, as concerning ‘the capacity of a body to seek judicial review of a decision which it could have made itself‘.

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Holmcroft v KPMG – Can a Firm of Accountants be a Public Body?

The ‘Big Four’ accounting firms are commercial organisations par excellence. And they are highly successful. They could be the poster children for globalised capitalism in the Twenty-first Century.

In that capacity, from time to time, their collective strength in certain product markets engages the attention of the competition authorities – as it did, for instance, in the UK Competition Commission’s inquiry into statutory audit services.

But competition law is about preventing the abuse of commercial power, and public law is about preventing the abuse of governmental power. These legal disciplines come from the opposite ends of the public-private spectrum. Are there any circumstances in which an organisation as intrinsically commercial as a major accounting firm can also be regarded as a public body and subject to the requirements of public law?

This was the question addressed by the Divisional Court in R (Holmcroft Properties) v KPMG. The case is revealing as to the courts’ approach to applying public law in a complex public-private environment, and in particular their failure to form a coherent view of how regulation operates.

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Damages and the Competence of the Administrative Court

The award of damages is not a remedy traditionally available in judicial review. In public law proceedings, the purpose of a claim is to identify unlawfulness and bring it to an end, not to compensate those who have been affected by it.

In recent years, however, the non-financial purity of judicial review has been eroded by a number of developments. In particular, monetary compensation is now available in some cases where the source of the wrong was non-compliance with either EU law (Francovich damages) or the European Convention on Human Rights (under section 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998).

But does the Administrative Court, without any real track record in this area, have the competence to carry out an assessment of damages in a complex case?

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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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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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