November 6th, 2013 by James Goudie KC

Should an order for specific disclosure be made in a judicial review application even before permission has been granted and where permission has been refused on paper?   That was the issue raised in R (Sky Blue Sorts & Leisure Ltd) v Coventry City Council [2013] EWHC 3366 (Admin), where such disclosure was refused.

Mr Justice Silber observed that the application was “extremely unusual”, having been made after Males J had already determined on the papers that the Claimants’ grounds of review were unarguable.  Silber J noted that neither he nor any of his colleagues knew of any case in which an order for specific disclosure had been made on a judicial review claim before permission had been granted.

The Claimants argued that disclosure of certain documents referred to in the Council’s Summary Grounds of Resistance and supporting materials was “necessary” in order to resolve their application for permission ‘fairly and justly’, as required by the test in Tweed v Parades Commission for Northern Ireland [2007] 1 AC 650.

Silber J rejected these arguments and agreed with the Council that further disclosure was not necessary at this stage. In particular, His Lordship held that:

– “A renewed permission application is a different animal from a substantive hearing”, and permission would be granted where “on a quick perusal of the material then available, the court thinks that it discloses what might on further consideration turn out to be an arguable case” (citing Lord Diplock in R v IRC ex p. Nat-Fed [1982] AC 617). In those circumstances, the Claimants already had “enough material to put forward a respectable case (if not their very best case) on most of the issues to be raised on the renewed permission application”; and

– There was no reason why the Claimants could not point to the Council’s decision not to disclose certain documents at the permission hearing, in order to support their argument that permission should be granted to investigate all of the facts in full.

His Lordship also mentioned that, if he had not dismissed the application for those reasons, then he might have dismissed it in any event, if he had concluded that the documents sought were not “highly relevant” to the issues, or because of the Claimants’ delay in making the application, which would have caused “serious prejudice” to the Council if the oral renewal hearing (listed for late November 2013) had to be postponed.

The owners of Coventry City Football Club had been refused permission to seek judicial review of the Council’s decision to loan £14.4m to the company that manages the Ricoh Arena (“ACL”), where the club used to play its home games. 

The Claimants argue that the loan was an unlawful State Aid, and that the Council had made the loan for the improper purpose of seeking “to compel [the Claimants] to relinquish ownership of the Club”. The Claimants also argue that the loan was irrational and ultra vires, and that the Council was guilty of misfeasance in public office.

After considering the application on the papers, Mr Justice Males on 31 July 2013held that:-

The claim had not been brought promptly, having been filed on the last day of the 3 month time limit or 1 day late, and there was no good reason for the delay;

– It was unarguable that the Council’s loan to ACL was a State Aid. The loan was made on commercial terms, and in order to protect the Council’s investment in ACL, in which it is a 50% shareholder; and

– The Claimants’ other grounds of review were also unarguable. The Council took its decision in order to protect its investment in ACL, and not in order to harm the Claimants’ commercial interests or to force them to relinquish ownership of the Club.

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