Judicial review and secondary legislation: What power does the court have to fix broken legislation?
In an era where the state provides public services through the private and voluntary sectors, this matter has become increasingly important for the individual in seeking to vindicate his or her rights against the exercise of public power.
In general terms, judicial review is the principal means by which the courts scrutinise the actions of public bodies. Judicial review is provided by statute (under sections 29 and 31 of the Senior Courts Act 1981), but the courts have long enjoyed an inherent jurisdiction to supervise public bodies to ensure that they act lawfully and fairly.
The availability of judicial review against public bodies is an important constitutional safeguard. Judicial review provides a corrective against the unlawful use of public law powers by public bodies, therefore protecting the citizen by making sure that public bodies are subject to the rule of law.
Judicial review claims are most commonly lodged against decisions (or non-decisions) by public office holders or public bodies who source their powers from statute, the royal prerogative or, in certain cases, the common law. In such cases, judicial review is available because the “source of power” test is satisfied. This test provides that judicial review will only be available where the decision (or non-decision) by the public body relates to that body’s statutory powers or powers under the prerogative or common law and, in order for the challenge to be entertained, it must relate to the exercise (or non-exercise) of those powers further to the body’s public law duties to the claimant.
As noted above, much of the delivery of public services is now contracted out by government to private sector businesses and the so-called “third sector” (for example charities). Furthermore, we have seen that over time many bodies, which are in origin “private sector” in nature, have assumed responsibilities for the provision of goods and services to the general public. For instance, many Church of England schools, which are today subject to statute based law, were founded as voluntary, private religious institutions. Such bodies would potentially be beyond the scope of judicial review if we only applied the source of power test. Over the past few decades, the courts have reacted to the changes in the structure of the state to bring these bodies within the ambit of the supervisory jurisdiction.
The landmark case of R v Panel on Take-Overs and Mergers, ex parte Datafin  QB 815 established that the source of power test is not the only test for determining whether the decisions or non-decisions of a body are amenable to judicial review. The Court of Appeal in Datafin held that bodies performing public duties or exercising powers that were public in nature may be subject to judicial review even though the powers being challenged stemmed from a non-statutory or non-prerogative source. In Datafin, Lloyd LJ said:
“… I do not agree that the source of the power is the sole test whether a body is subject to judicial review… Of course the source of the power will often, perhaps usually, be decisive. If the source of power is a statute, or subordinate legislation under a statute, then clearly the body in question will be subject to judicial review. If, at the other end of the scale, the source of power is contractual, as in the case of private arbitration, then clearly the arbitrator is not subject to judicial review…
But in between these extremes there is an area in which it is helpful to look not just at the source of the power but at the nature of the power. If the body in question is exercising public law functions, or if the exercise of its functions have public law consequences, then that may … be sufficient to bring the body within the reach of judicial review … The essential distinction is between a domestic or private Tribunal on the one hand and a body of persons who are under some public duty on the other."
The Datafin case concerned a body then known as the Panel on Take-overs and Mergers (today known as the “Takeover Panel”). This body did not enjoy any statutory, prerogative or common law powers. Indeed, it had no contractual relationships with the bodies it regulated. However, it was in practice an essential part of the regulation of the City of London’s financial services market as it supervised takeovers in the City. The Court of Appeal thus held that the Panel was amenable to judicial review in relation to its powers over those it regulated.
Datafin gave rise to what is now termed the “public functions” test. The effect of this test is that all bodies exercising functions of a public law nature are, in principle, susceptible to challenge by judicial review. What matters under the test is the nature of the decision or non-decision in question rather than, per se, the identity of the body under challenge.
The consequence of this test is that apparently non-state private bodies (for example, the managers of a privately-owned psychiatric hospital) have found their decisions subject to judicial review.
In R (Beer) v Hampshire Farmers Markets Ltd  1 WLR 233, Dyson LJ (as he then was) summarised the development of this area of law following Datafin:
“... the law has now been developed to the point where, unless the source of power clearly provides the answer, the question whether the decision of a body is amenable to judicial review requires a careful consideration of the nature of the power and function that has been exercised to see whether the decision has a sufficient public element, flavour or character to bring it within the purview of public law. It may be said with some justification that this criterion for amenability is very broad, not to say question-begging. But it provides the framework for the investigation that has to be conducted …”
In conducting the “investigation”, the courts will look to a number of factors including, amongst other things, the public importance of the function being examined.
Why this matters to individuals and organisations
In Datafin, Sir John Donaldson M.R. said it is important for the courts to “recognise the realities of executive power” and not allow “their vision to be clouded by the subtlety and sometimes complexity of the way in which it can be exerted”. Private sector bodies acting in a public law context (for example voluntary regulators of professions) must understand that their acts may fall under the scope of the courts’ supervisory jurisdiction. Indeed, there have been attempts lately to extend the parameters of review further to decisions made in what might otherwise appear to be a commercial environment.
Earlier this year, the High Court dismissed an application for judicial review against the role played by KPMG as a “skilled person” under section 166 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
The facts of the case relate to the mis-selling of various interest rate hedging products (IRHPs) by Barclays Bank plc. The Financial Services Authority (the FSA) (the predecessor organisation to the Financial Conduct Authority) agreed with Barclays that the bank would set up a scheme to provide redress to customers who had been wrongly sold IRHPs. Barclays agreed further with the FSA that KPMG should oversee the implementation and application of the scheme. Under the scheme, Barclays would not make any offers of compensation to customers except with KPMG’s approval.
The claimant (Holmcroft Properties Ltd) argued that it was made an offer by Barclays that was inadequate and that KPMG had acted unfairly by confirming the offer made by Barclays. The claimant submitted that KPMG’s role as independent reviewer had a sufficient “public flavour” (as described by Dyson LJ in Hampshire Farmer Markets (see above)) to give rise to public law duties.
In giving judgment, the court accepted that “KPMG was clearly "woven into" the regulatory function” and that it's “function in approving the terms of any offers was critical in achieving the twin aims of objectivity and acceptability” (at para. 39). Nevertheless, the court dismissed the claim by holding that KPMG’s duties did not have sufficient “public law flavour” to render it susceptible to judicial review and that there was “no direct public law element in KPMG’s role” (at para. 47) because, amongst other things, KPMG’s powers were conferred by contract and that the FSA had no regulatory obligation to carry out the role which KPMG played.
Although the claimant’s case in Holmcroft was dismissed, it serves as a reminder that the boundaries of public law are not fixed. Holmcroft was particularly interesting as, at the permission stage of bringing the claim, the court held that there was at least an arguable case that KPMG was amenable to judicial review.
English law recognises that a body can act in more than one capacity and consequently not all the activities of private bodies are subject only to private law. A body operating on the amorphous boundary between private and public law should have regard to this and conduct its legal affairs accordingly, by reference to administrative and public law principles.
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Attempts to narrow the scope of judicial review have long been on the Conservative Party’s political agenda. Following the Independent Review of Administrative Law (‘IRAL’) and the subsequent government consultation on reform of judicial review, the then Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, introduced the Judicial Review and Courts Bill (‘the Bill’) to the House of Commons on 21 July 2021. The Bill is making its way through Parliament and is currently at the committee stage.
As we highlighted in our earlier blog following the Bill’s announcement, the proposed reforms are, at first sight, milder than had been feared. Nevertheless, the Bill proposes to make significant amendments to the remedies available in judicial review proceedings and to also limit the court’s jurisdiction.
The Administrative Court of England & Wales has recently considered a challenge to its jurisdiction to hear a judicial review claim on the basis (asserted by the defendant) that the claim should be heard at the Court of Session in Scotland. As explained below, the challenge was unsuccessful, but the case is interesting not just because of the Court’s conclusion on the substantive issue but also because of His Honour Judge Simon’s approach to the “technical” (procedural) issues the case gave rise to.
Earlier this year, changes to Practice Direction 54A (covering judicial review) and 54B (covering urgent applications) came into effect. This blog will consider the impact that the changes have had on the procedure for judicial review, before turning to a recent example of the perils of failing to follow the rules.
The Judicial Review and Courts Bill contains a new ‘ouster clause’ designed to prevent judicial review of the Upper Tribunal’s decisions on certain applications for permission to appeal against decisions of the First-Tier Tribunal. This blog explores why drafting legislation to restrict judicial review is so difficult.
R (A) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 37 and R (BF (Eritrea) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 38
Two linked Supreme Court judgments provide a reminder to claimants that challenges to policies should focus on whether the policies authorise or approve violations of the law. The court acknowledges that policies are issued to promote practical objectives and the standards set for reviewing them must not be unduly demanding.
Long awaited reforms to judicial review were revealed yesterday by Robert Buckland in his Judicial Review and Courts Bill. Thankfully the proposals to suspend quashing orders and limit their retrospective effect retain all-important judicial discretion and, at face value, are milder than feared. However, the decision to exclude the review of Upper Tribunal permission-to-appeal decisions (so called “Cart JRs”) is more troubling, marking the return of ouster clauses and possibly setting the groundwork for the removal of the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court in future legislation.
This morning (12 February 2021) the UK Supreme Court handed down judgment in Okpabi & others v Royal Dutch Shell (“Okpabi”), a case concerning mass oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Judgment is in favour of the claimants, communities representing over 40,000 affected citizens of Nigeria, whose claim against oil conglomerate Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary can now be heard in the English courts.
The Bloomsbury Institute was fighting to survive financially after the Office for Students refused its application for registration. It brought a judicial review challenge which revealed that an unpublished policy had been followed. The policy had been formulated by an official who did not have the power to make the relevant decisions.
In a February 2019 Advisory Opinion, the International Court of Justice stated that, under international law, the decolonisation of Mauritius by the UK has never been lawfully completed and the UK must therefore “end its administration” of the Chagos islands.
Interpreting legislation is both an art and a science. This recent Court of Appeal case illustrates how judges do it in the context of the statutory scheme used to introduce controversial voter ID pilot schemes.
Even if it is generally more straightforward for the claimant to be a legal person, this judgment may give confidence to the likes of amateur sports clubs and campaigning pressure groups considering challenging the exercise of public power.
Everyone has an opinion on yesterday’s decision of the UK Supreme Court. Boris Johnson said on television that he profoundly disagreed with it. Jacob Rees-Mogg reportedly called it a ‘constitutional coup’ on a cabinet conference call. Former Lord Chancellor Michael Gove was distinctly equivocal about it when interviewed on the Today programme. Laura Kuenssberg reported on Twitter that a No 10 source said ‘the Supreme Court is wrong and has made a serious mistake in extending its reach into these political matters’. The fact these people all claim they will still ‘respect’ the decision does not detract from the corrosiveness of their sentiments.
The prorogation judicial reviews concerned the constitutional equilibrium between government, parliament and the courts. Today, an 11 member UK Supreme Court panel affirmed its centuries-old supervisory jurisdiction over acts of government and ruled unanimously that Boris Johnson’s government failed to advance any reasonable justification for proroguing parliament. The prorogation was therefore unlawful and ‘never happened’ so parliament is back in the game.
Scotland’s highest court and a senior divisional court of the High Court in England and Wales have reached opposite conclusions about whether the recent decision to prorogue parliament was lawful.
Monday night’s marathon session in Parliament saw a number of issues debated into the small hours and further defeats for the government. While many raised important political and legal issues, one of particular interest to information lawyers, followers of Parliamentary procedure and journalists alike was the endorsement of a “Humble Address” motion brought by former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.
On 24 July 2019, the High Court handed down judgment in R (on the application of Independent Workers Union Of Great Britain and others) v Mayor Of London  EWHC 1997 (Admin). This case related to the decision in December 2018 by the Mayor of London to remove an exemption and require private hire vehicles (“PHV”) to pay the Congestion Charge from 8 April 2019
According to the most recent data, two million people in London are living with illegal levels of air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide is one of the main pollutants and road transport is estimated to be responsible for 50% of total emissions.
We have seen in recent months various and different attempts by those who want to change the course of government policy on the issue of climate change.
The High Court judgment of R (Johnson, Woods, Barrett and Stewart) v SSWP EWHC 23 (Admin) involved a judicial review challenge to the method of calculating universal credit. The claimants successfully demonstrated that the DWP’s method of calculation was an incorrect interpretation of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 (the Regulations) as it failed to account for circumstances where workers’ pay dates do not converge with the fixed assessment periods under the universal credit scheme.
In its consultation “Extending Fixed Recoverable Costs in Civil Cases: Implementing Sir Rupert Jackson’s proposals”, which was launched on 28 March 2019, the Ministry of Justice has failed to take forward a proposal that could have had a significant impact on the ability of individuals to hold public bodies to account through judicial review proceedings.
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