Coronavirus Bill

March 19th, 2020 by Peter Oldham QC in Local Authority Powers

As most relevant to English local authorities’ powers and duties, the Bill provides for the following, amongst other, measures – with a great deal of further detail:-

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Covid-19 and Procurement

March 19th, 2020 by Peter Oldham QC in Decision making and Contracts

The Cabinet Office has published a note entitled “Procurement Policy Note – Responding to COVID-19”, PPN 01/10.  It says

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Some thoughts on Local Authorities and Coronavirus

March 18th, 2020 by Peter Oldham QC in Decision making and Contracts, Human Rights and Public Sector Equality Duty, Judicial Control, Liability and Litigation, Local Authority Powers, Social Care

This note sets out some information and personal views about local authority decision making in the light of the current crisis.

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Local authorities, procurement and not profit organisations

June 2nd, 2016 by Peter Oldham QC in Decision making and Contracts, Judicial Control, Liability and Litigation, Land, Goods and Services

Local authorities often procure contracts from non-profit organisations (NPOs). Assume an NPO brings a claim under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 claiming that something went wrong in a procurement, such that there is an automatic suspension preventing the contract being entered into. Say the authority then applies to Court to set the suspension aside.  How does the American Cyanamid test apply where the claimant is an NPO?  In A v B TCC 27 May 2016, the Technology & Construction Court returned to this question.

Readers will recall that on an application to lift the suspension under the PCR, Cyanamid means that the Court will consider whether there is a serious issue to be tried; whether damages are an insufficient remedy; and whether the balance of convenience lies with maintaining the suspension. The modern trend is to see the adequacy of damages as one of the factors relevant to the balance of convenience, rather than as a separate stage.

In Bristol Missing Link Ltd v Bristol City Council [2015] PRST 1470, the claimant was an NPO providing domestic violence and abuse support services to the local authority. Its tender made no allowance for any profit, so that damages would be nominal at most. The suspension was not lifted. Coulson J said at [55]:-

 “In my view, a non-profit-making organisation, which has bid for a contract making no allowance for profit at all, and a minimal amount for overheads, is entitled to say that, in such circumstances, damages would not be an adequate remedy.”

In A v B, the claimant was an NHS trust, and so also an NPO.  The defendant was a procuring CCG. On the CCG’s application to set aside the suspension, Stuart-Smith J distinguished Bristol. He said that the mere fact that the Trust was an NPO did not mean that damages would be an inadequate remedy.  Moreover in Bristol, the claimant’s business stood to be wiped out if it lost the tender.  Here by contrast, the Trust stood to lose only 10% of its work.  After considering other factors relevant to the balance of convenience, the judge set the suspension aside.

So the first point to take away is that merely because the claimant is an NPO will not mean that it gets over the hurdle of showing that damages would be an insufficient remedy. As ever, it is a question of fact.

And as to that, the Courts have recently made it clear that, on an application to discharge the suspension, simple assertions, by either party, about where the balance of convenience lies will not be enough to make their case. Solid evidence is normally needed e.g. OpenView Ltd v Merton LBC [2015] BLR 735; Counted4 CIC v Sunderland CC 164 Con LR 230. And that’s the second point to take away.

Peter Oldham QC



Claimant’s duty of candour in JR proceedings strongly affirmed by CA …

May 6th, 2016 by Peter Oldham QC in Judicial Control, Liability and Litigation

… in R ota Khan v SSHD [2016] EWCA Civ 416, a decision of 4th April 2016.  Beatson LJ, setting aside permission to appeal (the other judges agreeing),  said

35 The duty to disclose all material facts known to a claimant in judicial proceedings including those which are or appear to be adverse to his case prior to applying for permission is well established …

36  Notwithstanding the provision by CPR 54.8 for a respondent to judicial review proceedings to file an acknowledgement of service and summary grounds, it remains the case that a claimant in judicial review proceedings must ensure that the judge dealing with such an application has the full picture in order to make the relevant decision …

Peter Oldham QC


Age assessment and litigation fairness

April 27th, 2016 by Peter Oldham QC in Judicial Control, Liability and Litigation, Social Care

The Court of Appeal handed down an interesting and wide- reaching judgment yesterday (26th April 2016) in LB Croydon v Y [2016] EWCA 398. It directly concerns age assessment cases, but the principles enunciated apply to all litigation, private and public.

Y was an asylum seeker who was assessed by LB Croydon for social services needs.  He was assessed as being over 18.  He brought a judicial review age assessment challenge.  The Upper Tribunal  gave directions listing the case for a 4 day hearing.   Five months later, Croydon applied to the UT for an order that the claim should be struck out or stayed unless Y consented to and co-operated fully with (1) a dental examination (including a dental X-ray), (2) a psychiatric examination and (3) an age assessment by two Croydon social workers.

In making this application, Croydon relied on the Court of Appeal’s decision in Starr v National Coal Board [1977] 1 WLR 63.  Starr was a personal injury claim.  Mr. Starr accepted that in preparing its defence, the NCB needed to be advised by a consultant neurologist who had had the opportunity of examining him. But he objected to examination by the particular doctor chosen by the NCB without explaining why.  He said that he was willing to be examined by any other consultant neurologist of similar qualification and experience.  The NCB applied for a stay of all further proceedings until Mr. Starr submitted to an examination by its chosen doctor.  The Court of Appeal upheld the stay that had been granted by the judge.

The UT judge refused Croydon’s application, saying that it was “most unfortunate” that Y’s representatives would not co-operate, but that it would be “too draconian” to stay or strike out the proceedings.  The judge said that Starr did not apply, first, because (unlike Mr. Starr) Y had not conceded that Croydon’s assessments were necessary; and second, because this was public rather than private law litigation.

Overturning the UT judge’s decision, Lord Dyson MR gave the only reasoned judgment, Macur and Lindblom LLJ agreeing.  On the first point, he said at [16] that it didn’t matter whether there was a concession or not: the question was whether the assessments were in fact “reasonably necessary for the proper conduct of Croydon’s defence”.   The UT judge himself had decided that they were.

On the second point, Lord Dyson said at [17] that “there is no basis in principle for confining the Starr principles to private law litigation… The fundamental common law right of a defendant to defend itself in litigation to which Scarman LJ referred [in Starr] applies in any litigation”.

This is important since it makes it clear that the Starr principle is of general application, whether in courts or tribunals. So – as an example only – the first-tier tribunal should apply similar principles in special educational needs cases where a young person’s needs are in question and the authority or school wants to assess them.

Lord Dyson finished by deciding that, though a UT judge had the normal discretion as to case management issues, there was no reason in the current case for the judge to have decided that the steps which Croydon wanted Y to take could not be properly accommodated in the proceedings. 

So the outcome was that the unless order sought by Croydon was made.

Peter Oldham QC




Brexit: the Information Commissioner speaks

April 26th, 2016 by Peter Oldham QC in Human Rights and Public Sector Equality Duty, Judicial Control, Liability and Litigation

At the beginning of March this year, I wrote a paper on the legal mechanics of Brexit.  (You can find it here if you are interested.) One of the things it discusses is how the UK  – or in some cases England and Wales, and (separately) Scotland – would go about retaining or replacing EU-derived law if the UK left the EU.

On 19th April 2016 the Information Commissioner’s Office put out this statement:-

“The UK will continue to need clear and effective data protection laws, whether or not the country remains part of the EU.

The UK has a history of providing legal protection to consumers around their personal data. Our data protection laws precede EU legislation by more than a decade, and go beyond the current requirements set out by the EU, for instance with the power given to the ICO to issue fines. Having clear laws with safeguards in place is more important than ever given the growing digital economy, and is also central to the sharing of data that international trade relies on.”

Data protection is an interesting example of how Brexit might affect our law, and throws up the sort of questions which would apply across the legal board in the event of a “leave” vote.

Much of our data protection law, though derived from EU instruments, is embodied in primary legislation, the Data Protection Act 1998 – so that the repeal of section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 (if that happened) would not in itself result in the repeal of our data protection framework.  The same is not true in many other fields, which are governed by statutory instruments made under section 2 of the ECA 1972, rather than primary legislation.

But the DPA is currently to be to understood in the light of EU-derived principles and caselaw.  If we left the EU, and kept the DPA, would those principles and the caselaw have grown domestic roots and continue to shape the interpretation of the DPA?

Another question. To what extent would leaving the EU allow the UK to reconsider what sort of data protection regime it wanted?  Principles of privacy are separately embodied in Article 8 of the ECHR, which will remain enforceable under the Human Rights Act 1998, regardless of the outcome of the  vote on 23rd June.  And if a significant information protection gap were left as a result of the re-shaping of our data protection law post-Brexit, common law or equity might step in.

This leaves out of account questions of what (if any) information protection arrangements the EU might be looking for from the UK in bilateral trade and security arrangements. But that is a political question.

Peter Oldham QC



Unpaid council tax, court costs and lawful expenditure

February 29th, 2016 by Peter Oldham QC in Council Tax and Rates, Judicial Control, Liability and Litigation

On Thursday 25th February, the Divisional Court gave judgment in the case of Rev Paul Nicolson v Grant Thornton.  This was Rev Nicolson’s appeal under the Audit Commission Act 1998 against the refusal of LB Haringey’s auditor to make a declaration of an unlawful item of account or issue a public interest report.

Rev Nicolson is an anti-poverty campaigner. He refused to pay council tax, and when he was taken to the magistrates’ court he lost and was ordered to pay costs of £125. The council’s right to claim costs was given by the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992. Haringey had a standard costs claim of £125 in such cases.  In a prior judicial review claim,  R ota  Nicolson v Tottenham Magistrates [2015] PTSR 1045, it had been held that the magistrates’ order had been unlawful as, at the hearing of the summons, there had been insufficient information for the magistrates to say whether £125 was a reasonable estimation of the costs incurred.

However, when Rev Nicolson also, and separately, objected to the auditors, they decided that the local authority had had sufficient information on which to decide that £125 was a proper charge.  The sum included aggregated costs, both direct and indirect, divided by the number of council tax summonses which Haringey had to deal with per year.   Accordingly the auditors decided that the item of account was lawful.  Rev Nicolson appealed.  The Divisional Court dismissed the appeal.  It declined to say that the auditors’ decision was unlawful, since they had considered the relevant factors,  and had given cogent reasons explaining their view.

Peter Oldham QC



Local authority boycotts

February 22nd, 2016 by Peter Oldham QC in Best Value, Decision making and Contracts, Non Judicial Control

A House of Commons briefing paper of 19th February 2016, which can be found here, notes that the Government is introducing new rules and guidance to limit the extent to which local authorities in England and Wales can use boycotts in their procurement and pensions investment policies.

On procurement, the Government has published Procurement Policy Note 01/16 on 17th February 2016 here which says:-

“Public procurement should never be used as a tool to boycott tenders from suppliers based in other countries, except where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government.”

On pensions, the briefing paper refers to the DCLG’s consultation on the draft Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds) Regulations 2016 (here), which closed on 19th February 2016, and to proposed guidance from SoS that environmental, social and corporate governance factors in investment decisions should reflect foreign policy.  The power to give guidance is in draft reg 7(1) and an authority’s investment strategy “must be in accordance” with it.