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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Hunt v North Somerset – Judicial Review, Pyrrhic Victories, and Costs

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?

Continue reading Hunt v North Somerset – Judicial Review, Pyrrhic Victories, and Costs