Renaming Streets

November 30th, 2015 by James Goudie KC

Authorities have power to alter street names pursuant to Section 18 of the Public Health Act 1925.  There is an unrestricted right of appeal under Section 8 to the Magistrates’ Court against a decision to rename a street. Basildon BC v James [2015] EWHC 3365 (Admin) was concerned with the approach to be adopted on appeal. 

Other than the giving of notice, Section 18 imposes no preconditions on the exercise of the power. It gives no direction as to factors to which the authority is required to have regard in making such a decision. Garnham J saw no grounds on which a Court could read into the exercise of the statutory power any requirements to be met, or matters to be considered, before the power is exercised, beyond those required by familiar principles of public law, namely to have regard to all that is relevant and to disregard all that is not.

The nature of the power in question is one that demands a subjective judgment by the authority. It cannot be governed by predetermined requirements. Essentially, Parliament has given the authority the right to choose a name.

There can be no doubt that it is the authority who makes the primary decision. The right of appeal given to “those aggrieved” by Section 8 does not change the identity of the primary decision maker.

The entitlement in the Magistrates’ Court on hearing the appeal to “make such order… as they consider reasonable” describes the remedies available to the Court in disposing of the appeal. It does not make the Magistrates’ Court the body charged with the decision whether or not to alter the street name. It follows that before determining what order is required the Magistrates’ Court must first determine whether or not the appeal succeeds; whether or not the authority’s decision was “wrong”.

The statute provides no guidance as to the test which should be applied in determining whether or not the appeal should be allowed or rejected.  In those circumstances, in Garnham J’s view, it was a mistake for the District Judge here to attempt to introduce objectives of his own devising as a means of testing the adequacy of the authoritys reasoning. There is simply no basis for the Magistrates’ Court to create such a list of objectives or to treat is as decisive. The question for the District Judge was whether, according the authority, appropriate respect for its reasoning and conclusions, that decision could properly be said to be wrong.

At paragraph 43 of his Judgment, Garnham J said:-

“… Section 8 provides an unrestricted right of appeal; but a District Judge is obliged to pay great attention to the opinion of the Council as the duly constituted and elected local authority and should not lightly reverse their conclusion; his function is to exercise the Section 8 powers only if he was satisfied that the judgment of the Council could be shown to be wrong, not merely because he was not satisfied that the judgment was right; if, but only if, he was first satisfied the Council was wrong was it for the District Judge to substitute his opinion for that of the Council.”

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