Freedom of Information in Scotland

June 15th, 2015 by jamesgoudie

The Scottish Government has initiated a Consultation on further extension of coverage of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (“FoIS”) to more organisations, specifically contractors who run privately managed prisons, providers of secure accommodation for children, grant-aided schools and independent special schools.

FoIS provides a statutory right of access to information held by Scottish public authorities. These range from the Scottish Parliament and Government, to local authorities, NHS boards, higher and further education bodies, doctors and dental practitioners.  However, the provisions of FoIS can be extended to bodies that carry out functions of a public nature or which provide, under a contract with a Scottish public authority, a service which is a function of that authority. This can be done by making an Order under s5 of FoIS, which designates those bodies as a Scottish public authority for the purposes of FoIS. They are then subject to the full requirements of FoIS. They would also automatically become subject to the requirements of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004. In accordance with s7(3) of FoIS, bodies proposed for coverage would be covered only in respect of the information they hold about specified public functions or services. Their duties under FoIS would therefore be limited to those functions or services as set out in the Order.

The Scottish Government brought forward Scotland’s first Order under s5(1) of FoIS in September 2013. Following consideration by the Parliament the Order came into effect on 1 April 2014. The Order extended coverage of FoIS to certain trusts which have been created by local authorities to deliver sporting, cultural and leisure facilities and/or activities on behalf of the local authority(ies).

The Scottish Government are now consulting on options for further extension of coverage. They are proposing to lay an Order in the Scottish Parliament in Autumn 2015. Subject to the Scottish Parliament supporting the Order, they would expect the bodies covered to become subject to FoIS and the EIR from Spring 2016. In addition to the organisations discussed in the Consultation Paper, suggestions are sought as to what other bodies – whether individually or collectively – should be considered in any future consultation.

In the previous consultation in 2010 the Scottish Government adopted a factor-based approach in determining the extent to which a function of an organisation could be described as being ‘of a public nature’.  They continue to believe that a factor-based approach is appropriate, and that a range of factors should be considered in assessing the ‘public nature’ of particular functions undertaken by certain organisations.

The Consultation Paper notes that the Scottish Information Commissioner has called for the extension of FoIS coverage to social housing owned by RSLs.  For a number of reasons, the Scottish Government are not currently persuaded of the merits of extending coverage to housing associations.

The Scottish Government do, however,  consider that a number of factors apply in relation to the functions undertaken, or services provided, by those various organisations highlighted in the Consultation Paper. In particular, there is a focus on organisations who, for the purposes of s5 of FoIS, undertake functions of a public nature or provide a service that is a function of a public authority(ies) relating to security, care and education.

The organisations considered for inclusion at this stage are:

  • contractors who run privately-managed prisons
  • providers of secure accommodation for children
  • grant-aided schools
  • independent special schools

With all these groups it is envisaged that any Order would provide a ‘class description’ in respect of the particular function undertaken or service provided. Given the potential for contractors or service providers to change over a period of time, a ‘class description’ gives more flexibility than listing specific bodies or contractors in the Order.

James Goudie QC

Disclosing child protection information: make sure you ask the right questions first

June 1st, 2015 by Robin Hopkins

High-profile revelations in recent years illustrate the importance of public authorities sharing information on individuals who are of concern in relation to child protection matters. When inaccurate information is shared, however, the consequences for the individual can be calamitous.

AB v Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary [2015] EWHC 1238 (Admin) is a recent High Court judgment (Jeremy Baker J) which explores the implications of such inaccurate disclosures. The case is not only about inaccuracies per se, but about why those inaccuracies were not picked up before the disclosure was made.

Perhaps the most notable point from the judgment is this: if such a disclosure is to be necessary, then the data controller must take care to ask themselves reasonable questions about that information, check it against other obvious sources, and make necessary enquiries before disclosure takes place.

In other words, failure to ask the right questions can lead to the wrong course of action in privacy terms. Here is how that principle played out in the AB case.

Background

In 2010, AB was summarily dismissed from his job as a science teacher for inappropriate comments and conduct with potential sexual undertones, as well as a failure to maintain an appropriately professional boundary with students. His appeal against dismissal failed. The Independent Safeguarding Authority, however, decided not to include AB on its barred lists. The General Teaching Council also investigated AB, but it did not find that the allegations of improper conduct were made out.

AB’s dismissal, however, came to the attention of a member of the child abuse investigation public protection unit of the Hampshire Constabulary. Enquiries were made of the college, and certain email correspondence and records were generated and retained on police systems.

Later the following year, AB was offered a teaching job elsewhere. This came to the police’s attention in 2013. There was internal discussion within the police about this. One officer said in an email that, among other things (i) AB had also been dismissed from another school, and (ii) AB’s 2010 dismissal had involved inappropriate touching between himself and pupils. There was no evidence that either of those points was true. That email concluded “From What I’ve been told he should be nowhere near female students. I will put an intel report in on [AB]”.

The above information was passed to the Local Authority Designated Officer (‘LADO’) and in turn to the school, who terminated AB’s employment. He then made a subject access request under the DPA, by which he learnt of the above communication, and also the source of that information, which was said to be a notebook containing a police officer’s notes from 2010 (which did not in fact record either (i) or (ii) above). AB complained of the disclosure and also of the relevant officer’s failures to follow the requisite safeguarding procedures. The police dismissed his complaint.

The Court’s judgment

AB sought judicial review of both the disclosure of the inaccurate email in the email, and of the dismissal of his complaint about the police officer’s conduct in his reporting of the matter.

The Court (Jeremy Baker J) granted the application on both issues. I focus here on the first, namely the lawfulness of the disclosure in terms of Article 8 ECHR.

Was the disclosure “in accordance with the law” for Article 8 purposes?

The Court considered the key authorities in this – by now quite well-developed – area of law (Article 8 in the context of disclosures by the police), notably:

MM v United Kingdom [2010] ECHR 1588 (the retention and disclosure of information relating to an individual by a public authority engages Article 8, and must therefore be justified under Article 8(2));

Tysiac v Poland (2007) 45 EHRR 42, where the ECtHR stressed the importance of procedural safeguards to protecting individuals’ Article 8 rights from unlawful interference by public bodies;

R v Chief Constable of North Wales Ex. Parte Thorpe [1999] QB 396: a decision about whether or not to disclose the identity of paedophiles to members of the public, is a highly sensitive one. “Disclosure should only be made when there is a pressing need for that disclosure”);

R (L) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2010] 1 AC 410: such cases are essentially about proportionality;

R (A) v Chief Constable of Kent [2013] EWCA Civ 1706: such a disclosure is often “in practice the end of any opportunity for the individual to be employed in an area for which an [Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate] is required. Balancing the risks of non-disclosure to the interests of the members of the vulnerable group against the right of the individual concerned to respect for his or her private life is a particularly sensitive and difficult exercise where the allegations have not been substantiated and are strongly denied”;

R (T) v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police & others [2015] AC 49 and R (Catt) v ACPO [2015] 2 WLR 664 on whether disclosures by police were in accordance with the law and proportionate.

The Court concluded that, in light of the above authorities, the disclosure made in AB’s case was “in accordance with the law”. It was made under the disclosure regime made up of: Part V of the Police Act 1997, the Home Office’s Statutory Disclosure Guidance on enhanced criminal records certificates, section 10 of the Children Act 2004 and the Data Protection Act 1998.

See Jeremy Baker J’s conclusion – and notes of caution – at [73]-[75]:

“73. In these circumstances it seems to me that not only does the common law empower the police to disclose relevant information to relevant parties, where it is necessary for one of these police purposes, but that the DPA 1998, together with the relevant statutory and administrative codes, provide a sufficiently clear, accessible and consistent set of rules, so as to prevent arbitrary or abusive interference with an individual’s Article 8 rights; such that the disclosure will be in accordance with law.

74. However, it will clearly be necessary in any case, and in particular in relation to a decision to disclose information to a third party, for the decision-maker to examine with care the context in which his/her decision is being made.

75. In the present case, although the disclosure of the information by the police was to a LADO in circumstances involving the safeguarding of children, it also took place in the context of the claimant’s employment. The relevance of this being, as DC Pain was clearly aware from the contents of his e-mail to PS Bennett dated 10th June 2013, that the disclosure of the information had the potential to adversely affect the continuation of the claimant’s employment at the school….”

Was the disclosure proportionate?

While the disclosure decision was in accordance with the law, this did not remove the need for the police carefully to consider whether disclosure was necessary and proportionate, particularly in light of the serious consequences of disclosure for AB’s employment.

The Court held that the disclosure failed these tests. The crucial factor was that if such information about AB was well founded, then it would have been contained in his Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate – and if it was not, this would have prompted enquiries about the cogency of the information (why, if it was correct, was such serious information omitted from the ECRC?) which would reasonably have been pursued to bottom the matter out before the disclosure was made. These questions had not been asked in this case. See [80]-[81]:

“… In these circumstances, it was in my judgment, a necessary procedural step for DC Pain to ascertain from the DBS unit as to, whether, and if so, what information it had already disclosed on any enhanced criminal record certificate, as clearly if the unit had already disclosed the information which DC Pain believed had been provided to him by the college, then it would not have been necessary for him to have made any further disclosure of that information.

81. If either DC Pain or PS Bennett had taken this basic procedural step, then not only would it have been immediately obvious that this information had not been provided to the school, but more importantly, in the context of this case, it would also have been obvious that further enquiries were required to be made: firstly as to why no such disclosure had been made by the DBS unit; and secondly, once it had been ascertained that the only information which was in the possession of the DBS unit was the exchange of e-mails on the defendant’s management system, as to the accuracy of the information with which DC Pain believed he had been provided by the college.”

Judicial reviews of disclosure decisions concerning personal data: the DPA as an alternative remedy?

Finally, the Court dealt with a submission that judicial review should not be granted as this case focused on what was essentially a data protection complaint, which could have been taken up with the ICO under the DPA (as was suggested in Lord Sumption’s comments in Catt). That submission was dismissed: AB had not simply ignored or overlooked that prospect, but had rather opted to pursue an alternative course of complaint; the DPA did not really help with the police conduct complaint, and the case raised important issues.

Robin Hopkins @hopkinsrobin

Why Evans gets the spiders

March 26th, 2015 by Robin Hopkins

I told you FOI was sexy.

The Supreme Court’s judgment in R (Evans) v Attorney General [2015] UKSC 21 has received vast amounts of media coverage – more in a single day than everything else about FOI has received in ten years, I reckon. No need to explain what the case was about – the upshot is that Rob Evans gets Prince Charles’ ‘black spider’ letters. Here’s why.

In other words, this post summarises why the judgment went Evans’ way 5:2 on the FOIA veto and 6:1 on the EIR veto. I leave aside the trenchant dissenting judgments (Lord Wilson on both FOIA and the EIRs; Lord Hughes on FOIA only), which merit a post in their own right.

FOIA and the ministerial veto

Three of the five JSCs who found that the Attorney General’s veto under FOIA was unlawful took the following view (that of Lord Neuberger).

The constitutional context and the restrictive view of section 53

“A statutory provision which entitles a member of the executive… to overrule a decision of the judiciary merely because he does not agree with it would not merely be unique in the laws of the United Kingdom. It would cut across two constitutional principles which are also fundamental components of the rule of law”, i.e. (i) that a court’s decisions are binding and cannot be ignored or set aside by anyone, and (ii) that the executive’s actions are reviewable by the court on citizens’ behalf. “Section 53, as interpreted by the Attorney General’s argument in this case, flouts the first principle and stands the second principle on its head” (paragraphs 51-52).

Therefore, if Parliament intends to permit the executive to override a judicial decision merely because it disagrees with that decision, it must ‘squarely confront what it is doing’ and make its intentions ‘crystal clear’. Section 53 FOIA is a long way from authorising such an override on the grounds of disagreement (paragraphs 56-58).

The upshot is that a minister cannot use section 53 to override a judicial decision simply on the grounds that, having considered the issue based on the same facts and arguments as the court or tribunal, he reaches a different view. In their context, and in light of the serious constitutional implications, the words “on reasonable grounds” in section 53 FOIA must be construed more restrictively: mere disagreement with the court/tribunal will not do.

The threshold is higher: a section 53 certificate will be lawful if there has been a material change in circumstances, or if facts or matters come to light at some point which (a) indicate that the judicial decision being overturned was seriously flawed, but (b) cannot give rise to an appeal against that decision. Such cases will be exceptional, but they are a real possibility, in Lord Neuberger’s judgment. Section 53 therefore retains some utility (see paragraphs 68, 77 and 78). Lord Kerr and Lord Reed agreed with Lord Neuberger’s restrictive view of section 53.

A less restrictive view of section 53

Lord Mance (with whom Lady Hale agreed) also found the Attorney General’s veto in this case to have been unlawful. He agreed that mere disagreement with the decision being overturned will not do. Lord Mance’s interpretation of section 53, however, is markedly less restrictive than that of Lord Neuberger: the accountable person is entitled under section 53 to reach a different view on the balancing of competing interests, even in the absence of the sorts of new considerations Lord Neuberger envisages, provided he gives properly explained and solid reasons against the background and law established by the judicial decision (see paragraphs 130-131).

There is thus more scope for a lawful veto on Lord Mance’s view – but his was not the majority view. Lord Neuberger’s more restrictive view commanded wider support. This makes a big difference to the future use of section 53.

What about First-Tier and ICO decisions?

Here are some further important implications addressed by Lord Neuberger.

This veto was against a decision of the Upper Tribunal, which is a court of record. Do the same stringent restrictions apply to an attempt to veto a decision of the First-Tier Tribunal? Answer: yes.

What about the ICO’s decisions? Is the threshold for a lawful veto equally high, or is it lower? Answer: it is lower, as the ICO’s evaluation can seldom be as exhaustive as that of a Tribunal. Nonetheless, the option to appeal to the Tribunal will be a relevant consideration: to use the section 53 power to achieve what you could also achieve by the more constitutionally appropriate route of an appeal may be an abuse of that power.

Those distinctions are important. Some section 53 certificates have been issued against First-Tier Tribunal decisions – the NHS risk register veto, for example. Others have been against ICO decisions – the High Speed 2 veto, for example. The Iraq war cabinet minutes have been the subject of two section 53 certificates – one against a Tribunal decision, the other against an ICO decision.

The EIRs and the ministerial veto

By comparison, the answer under the EIRs was relatively straightforward: Article 6 of Directive 2003/4/EC requires that refusals to disclose environmental information can be challenged before court whose decisions will be final. The ministerial veto provision does not square with that requirement. Environmental information cannot be the subject of the ministerial veto. These were the arguments advanced by Mr Evans, and by Tim Pitt-Payne on the ICO’s behalf. They were accepted by six of the seven JSCs.

So, a triumphant day for Rob Evans and The Guardian – and indeed for FOIA, the EIRs, transparency and the rule of law.

The outlook for the future use of section 53 is challenging, though there is nuance aplenty, even aside from the dissenting judgments.

Robin Hopkins @hopkinsrobin

Google Spain, freedom of expression and security: the Dutch fight back

March 13th, 2015 by Robin Hopkins

The Dutch fighting back against the Spanish, battling to cast off the control exerted by Spanish decisions over Dutch ideologies and value judgments. I refer of course to the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), which in my view is a sadly neglected topic on Panopticon.

The reference could also be applied, without too much of a stretch, to data protection and privacy rights in 2015.

The relevant Spanish decision in this instance is of course Google Spain, which entrenched what has come to be called the ‘right to be forgotten’. The CJEU’s judgment on the facts of that case saw privacy rights trump most other interests. The judgment has come in for criticism from advocates of free expression.

The fight-back by free expression (and Google) has found the Netherlands to be its most fruitful battleground. In 2014, a convicted criminal’s legal battle to have certain links about his past ‘forgotten’ (in the Google Spain sense) failed.

This week, a similar challenge was also dismissed. This time, a KPMG partner sought the removal of links to stories about him allegedly having to live in a container on his own estate (because a disgruntled builder, unhappy over allegedly unpaid fees, changed the locks on the house!).

In a judgment concerned with preliminary relief, the Court of Amsterdam rejected his application, finding in Google’s favour. There is an excellent summary on the Dutch website Media Report here.

The Court found that the news stories to which the complaint about Google links related remained relevant in light of public debates on this story.

Importantly, the Court said of Google Spain that the right to be forgotten “is not meant to remove articles which may be unpleasant, but not unlawful, from the eyes of the public via the detour of a request for removal to the operator of a search machine.”

The Court gave very substantial weight to the importance of freedom of expression, something which Google Spain’s critics say was seriously underestimated in the latter judgment. If this judgment is anything to go by, there is plenty of scope for lawyers and parties to help Courts properly to balance privacy and free expression.

Privacy rights wrestle not only against freedom of expression, but also against national security and policing concerns.

In The Hague, privacy has recently grabbed the upper hand over security concerns. The District Court of The Hague has this week found that Dutch law on the retention of telecommunications data should be down due to its incompatibility with privacy and data protection rights. This is the latest in a line of cases challenging such data retention laws, the most notable of which was the ECJ’s judgment in Digital Rights Ireland, on which see my post here. For a report on this week’s Dutch judgment, see this article by Maarten van Tartwijk in The Wall Street Journal.

As that article suggests, the case illustrates the ongoing tension between security and privacy. In the UK, security initially held sway as regards the retention of telecoms data: see the DRIP Regulations 2014 (and Panopticon passim). That side of the argument has gathered some momentum of late, in light of (for example) the Paris massacres and revelations about ‘Jihadi John’.

Just this week, however, the adequacy of UK law on security agencies has been called into question: see the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report entitled “Privacy and Security: a modern and transparent legal framework”. There are also ongoing challenges in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal – for example this one concerning Abdul Hakim Belhaj.

So, vital ideological debates continue to rage. Perhaps we really should be writing more about 17th century history on this blog.

Robin Hopkins @hopkinsrobin

Quite like a whale

February 24th, 2015 by Peter Lockley

As my colleague Robin Hopkins has warned, the decision of the Upper Tribunal in Fish Legal looks like a pretty big beast: sixty pages on whether water companies are public authorities for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations, applying the CJEU’s lengthy ruling on the points of principle (for which, see this post by Chris Knight).

(If you just need the quick answer: yes they are, by virtue of having ‘special powers’, but not by virtue of being under the control of a public body. For the detail, read on.)

In fact, while it could never be classed as a minnow, on closer inspection Fish Legal is not the monster it first seems (see Part 1 of the judgment here and Part 2 here). Fifteen of those sixty pages are appendices. More importantly, the decision poses, but declines to answer, some wider questions. Although Mr Justice Charles was sympathetic to the Information Commissioner’s request for guidance on how to identify a public authority, he stopped short of laying down ‘broad general principles’ on the question (paras.95-97). He gave shorter shrift to the water companies’ request that he list all of their powers which fell within the definition of ‘special powers’– a request made, apparently, with a view to lobbying Parliament to rid the companies of those powers, and so save them from the burden of EIR (para.98).

And one would hardly have expected him to address the question with the widest ramifications: if water companies are public authorities by virtue of their “special powers”, what of the various other privatised industries? It is, of course, a very fact specific analysis. Anxious electricity chiefs, rail bosses, and telecoms honchos will just have to read the judgment and consider how the ‘special powers’ and ‘control’ tests would apply to their own particular circumstances (see para. 110).

 

Background

The UT had two issues before it: (i) whether the Information Commissioner had jurisdiction to decide whether a body was a public authority for the purposes of the EIR or FOIA (as he had purported to do), and therefore whether the UT itself had jurisdiction to hear the case, and (ii) whether privatised water companies in England and Wales are public authorities for the purposes of EIR, applying the principles set down by the CJEU following a referral from the UT (blog post here).

By the time of this, the second outing before the UT, the cast list had expanded significantly, bringing in several 11KBW counsel to join Anya Proops, who acted for the Information Commissioner before the CJEU. The Secretary of State was joined as a party and was represented by Julian Milford. The parties in two related cases, Cross v IC and the Cabinet Office and Bruton v IC and Duchy of Cornwall, were also invited to make submissions on the nature of the tests. Karen Steyn QC and Joseph Barrett appeared for Mr Bruton; Amy Rogers appeared for the Duchy. (Those cases will now go forward to be decided applying the Fish Legal principles.)

 

The jurisdiction issue

The Secretary of State argued that under s.57 FOIA, the First-Tier Tribunal only has jurisdiction over a decision notice issued by the Commissioner under s.50(3)(b) FOIA, and that the Commissioner had no jurisdiction to serve a decision notice on the issue of whether a body is a public authority. Section 50 is based on the premise that a request has been made to a public authority; these elements are anterior to the Commissioner’s jurisdiction and he has no authority to decide them within the framework of FOIA.

The UT rejected these arguments. It took the view that jurisdictional provisions are routinely based on certain assumed conditions, but this does not deprive the body in question of the jurisdiction to decide whether those conditions have been met. So the UT’s jurisdiction to hear an appeal on any point of law arising from a decision made by the FTT assumes that a decision has been properly made by a properly-constituted tribunal, but it does not mean that the UT cannot rule on whether those conditions are met in a given appeal (para 31).

The UT applied this reasoning to both a positive decision by the Commissioner that a body is a public authority, and a negative decision that it is not, even though the latter is not a decision notice under s.50(3) FOIA. To hold otherwise would mean that while a body could appeal against a positive decision, a requester would face the more expensive route of judicial review of a negative decision (para.37). Furthermore, the Commissioner would have no power under the similarly structured s.51 FOIA to require the information he needed to reach an informed decision that a body was not a public authority (para. 41).

After scrutinising the decision of the House of Lords in BBC v Sugar [2009] 1 WLR 430, the UT decided that there was nothing in the case that disturbed its conclusions on the point (paras.43-54).

The Commissioner therefore has jurisdiction to decide the issue, the FTT to hear appeals against his decisions and the UT to hear appeals against the decisions of the FTT.

The public authority issue

Two of the limbs of the definition of ‘public authority’ under the EIR were in issue. A finding that the companies fell within either would suffice to make them public authorities. (A little care is needed with the numbers of the provisions in question: Article 2(2)(b) of the Environmental Information Directive is transposed as Reg. 2(2)(c) of the EIR, and Article 2(2)(c) of the Directive as Reg. 2(2)(d) of the EIR.)

 

Persons performing public administrative functions – the ‘special powers’ test

The CJEU expanded on Art. 2(2)(b) of the Directive by explaining that persons ‘performing public administrative functions’ are

52 […] entities, be they legal persons governed by public law or by private law, which are entrusted, under the legal regime which is applicable to them, with the performance of services of public interest, inter alia in the environmental field, and which are, for this purpose, vested with special powers beyond those which result from the normal rules applicable in relations between persons governed by private law.

Only the parts underlined were in dispute in the case of the water companies, which clearly meet the rest of the test.

The UT declined to draw any conclusion from the fact that the CJEU had not seen fit to apply the principles to the facts of this case (paras. 99-100). It also rejected a suggestion that it should ask itself whether the companies’ powers were in the nature of State powers (as the Advocate General had suggested). That was because the definition of ‘State powers’ was unclear and ever-changing, and also because the CJEU had not adopted that test. In the end, however, the UT did adopt the State powers test ‘as a check’ – leaving the status of the test somewhat unclear (paras.113-117).

The main analysis focussed on the following powers of water companies:

Compulsory Purchase (under s.155 of the Water Industry Act 1991, “WIA”): this looks like a quintessential government power unavailable to ordinary citizens, but in fact the water companies enjoy the power at one remove: before exercising it they require authorisation by the Secretary of State, which they can apply for via a process set out in Schedule 11 to the WIA. Nonetheless, the provisions conferred a real, practical advantage on the water companies. Firstly, the application process afforded them privileged access to those advising the Secretary of State on whether to authorise a compulsory purchase. Secondly, it conferred significant commercial leverage on the companies in any negotiation to purchase land, even if they rarely resorted to it in practice (para 107).

Power to make byelaws (s.157 WIA): such byelaws  require confirmation from the Secretary of State, but as with compulsory purchase, the power still confers an advantage on the companies. The section confers power beyond that of any private landowner, since byelaws under s.157 can be backed by criminal sanctions, unlike a landowner’s licence. ‘Special powers’ extends to ‘special powers of enforcement’ (para. 110).

Power to lay pipes (s.159 WIA): this power was the subject of a detailed comparison with the powers ordinarily available under private law. The companies argued that the same powers could be acquired through a license or easement. While accepting that this was potentially so, the UT emphasised that private law typically requires consent of the parties to achieve such a result (through the law of contract or property). By contrast, the WIA gives the water companies effective power to compel this result (para.121).

Power to enter land (s.168 WIA): although there are powers within private law allowing entry to another’s land (eg self-help to abate a nuisance at common law), they are narrowly circumscribed (eg they require possession of neighbouring land). The water companies’ powers are both wider and deeper: they apply against any landowner in the company’s area of license, and they extend to surveying and even boring on the land (para.125).

Hosepipe bans (ss.76-76C WIA): these powers are unlike anything available at private law, and moreover are backed by criminal sanctions.

Since it was content that the companies enjoyed a cluster of special powers, the UT formally left open the question of whether one would have been enough (see para. 105). However its comment in conclusion that the powers mentioned were ‘sufficient, collectively in themselves and as examples of powers of the same type’ to meet the test (para. 130) suggests that some pattern of powers will probably be necessary before a body is considered a public authority.

 

Persons under the control of public authorities

The CJEU’s elaboration of Article 2(2)(c) set out the test for ‘control’ in the following terms:

68 […] this third, residual, category of public authorities covers any entity which does not determine in a genuinely autonomous manner the way in which it performs the functions in the environmental field which are vested in it, since a public authority covered by Article 2(2)(a) or (b) of the directive is in a position to exert decisive influence on the entity’s action in that field.

The test applies to the manner in which functions are performed, not the functions themselves: a body is not under control of the Government merely because its powers derive from statute (para. 133). There are two elements to the test: the body must (i) operate in fact in a non-autonomous manner, and (ii) do so because a public authority is in a position to control it (para. 134). In other words, although the public authority need not actually be exercising its powers of control, the existence of the powers must have a real constraining effect on the body in question (para.135). Furthermore, the test required the UT to look at the companies’ overall manner of performing their environmental services: it would not be enough to find control in ‘one or two marginal aspects of their business’ (para. 136).

As for prior authorities, Smartsource was simply no longer relevant: the task of the UT was to consider the issue afresh in the light of the CJEU’s ruling (para.137).

The UT was at pains to point out that ‘no legitimate business has complete freedom of action’: all operate in a framework of legal and commercial constraints. Something more is needed before one can say that they have lost their autonomy (paras 142-144).

The two counsel for the requesting parties sought to supply that ‘something more’ by advancing ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ examples of actual state intervention in the water industry: recommendations by the Secretary of State made on reviewing a Draft Water Resources Management Plan, and an enforcement notice issued by OFWAT in respect of the risk of sewer flooding in the Penketh area. These were dismissed as no more than ‘increased intensity of oversight at particular times and in respect of particular activities’ (para.148).

A list of potential interventions was also provided – an analysis of the Secretary of State’s powers under the WIA. Although these clearly put the Secretary of State ‘in a position to exert decisive influence’ over the water companies’ actions, they too were rejected as not demonstrating control. The UT’s first two reasons are a little puzzling. The first was that the powers are (to some extent) a substitute for the forces of competition, since water companies enjoy local monopolies (para. 151). This rather begs the question: the grant of a monopoly confers great power on a private entity, which needs to be limited in the public interest. Just because state control is a substitute for market forces, this does not stop it from being a form of control. The second reason was that ‘the risk of enforcement is at most only a marginal consideration for a reputable company’ (para.152). Really? Why then did OFWAT need to issue that enforcement notice for the Penketh sewers?

However, the UT went on to find that whatever the potential for intervention, the more basic aspect of the control test was not satisfied. Merely listing all the possible interventions distorted the picture of how the companies operate in fact, and only addressed the second element of the test. The UT’s overall conclusion on the control test was that ‘despite the extent to which there is scope to influence the companies’ decision-making on the way it delivers its services, the evidence does not show that that influence is actually exerted to such an extent that overall the companies lack genuine autonomy (para.153).

You might not have predicted this result if you had read the CJEU’s heavy hint on the question of control – see [71] of its judgment

The weight that the UT afforded to the companies’ status as ordinary private companies is one of the surprises of the judgment. And it will be one of the few points of comfort for other privatised utilities. Not many can be as heavily regulated as the water industry; perhaps they too can avoid at least this limb of the definition.

 

POSTSCRIPT: if you’ve come here from Robin’s post, you may be wondering what Lewis Carroll has to do with all this. Loyal reader (which you must be if you’ve got this far), your guess is as good as mine. Why is the section on the State powers test (paras. 113-117) headed ‘Hunting of the Snark’? Answers on an e-postcard please.

 

 Peter Lockley

 

 

 

Leviathan

February 23rd, 2015 by Robin Hopkins

Hot off the press: the Upper Tribunal has given its judgment in Fish Legal.

Applying the principles from the CJEU’s judgment of December 2013, it has held that the respondent water companies are public authorities for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, by virtue of their “special powers”.

The issues and facts are complex, and the judgment is lengthy. It also makes reference to Lewis Carroll, who now somehow appears in two consecutive Panopticon posts.

The judgment is contained in these two documents: FISH LEGAL UT DECISON PART 1 and FISH LEGAL UT DECISON PART 2.

Analysis  of the judgment will follow on Panopticon shortly (thus the barrister dreamed, while the bellowing seemed to grow every moment more clear).

Robin Hopkins

Keynote speaker announced for 11KBW Information Law Conference 2015

February 9th, 2015 by Panopticon Blog

We are delighted to be joined by Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, who will giving the keynote address at this year’s conference on “FOIA: is this what we expected – and is it good enough for the future?”

The 11KBW Information Law Conference is being held on 19th March 2015. As well as providing an over-view of the key developments in the field of information law, the conference will cover a range of topical issues including: whether the law governing State surveillance is fit for purpose, the relationship between data protection and the media and whether, at 10 years old, FOIA should be seen a boon to or a burden on society.

Date: 19th March 2015
Venue: Royal College of Surgeons, 35 – 43 Lincoln Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE
Cost: £99 + VAT (20%) = £118.80 to attend half day plus lunch £150 + VAT (20%) = £180.00 to attend full day. We are offering a EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT – 10% off if you book before 27th February 2015 on both half and full day places.

For more information on the conference agenda and details on how to book please click here

Local Offers

February 6th, 2015 by jamesgoudie

Section 30 in Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 defines and prescribes the content of a “Local Offer”.  A local authority in England must publish information about the education and training, social care and health provision, for children and young people who have special educational needs or a disability, that it expects to be available in its area (or in some circumstances outside), whether or not it will be making that provision itself.  Schedule 2 to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014, SI 2014/1530, specify what information must be included in the Local Offer.  Mostyn J has considered these provisions in R (L & P) v Warwickshire County Council (2015) EWHC 203 (Admin).  He observed, at para 48, that Schedule 2 provides for a “very extensive range of information” to be published in the Local Offer, and referred to the “vast number” of people and bodies each local authority must consult before publishing its Local Offer and to the “huge range of information that must be referenced”.

Having referred to the statutory guidance, Mostyn J stated:

“51.       Although the prescriptions are extremely extensive it is important to understand that the requirement is no more than to publish information about what services are expected to be available.  Section 30 of the 2014 Act incorporates a publication obligation, no more, no less.”

At para 54, he said:

“…it must be very clearly understood what the purpose of the consultation is. It is about what appears in the Local Offer, which is a compendium of information. I remind myself of the words of section 30. The local authority has a duty to publish information about certain provision it expects to be available.”

At para 57, Mostyn J reiterated that the statutory consultation is about what the Local Offer should say about services to be provided, not about what services should be provided.  He dismissed the challenge to the fairness of the consultation.  He emphasized (para 59) that the Local Offer by its nature will always be subject to continuous updating; and, at para 77, approved the following submissions on behalf of the County Council:

(i) The development and publication of the Local Offer is, as the legislative framework envisages and the implementation guidance makes clear, intended to be an iterative process, subject to consultation and to be done in accordance with the new spirit of “co-production”. To update the website with further information on the Local Offer and to continue to do so as the Offer is refined and further developed is entirely lawful.

(ii) It is obviously not arguably unlawful for information to be published on the Council’s website by way of a link through to a partner’s website, for example with respect to the information on healthcare provision and SEN provision in schools.

James Goudie QC

New Court of Appeal Judgment on handling of DNA materials by the police

February 6th, 2015 by Rupert Paines

The question of what uses can properly be made of DNA data held by the police is an acutely sensitive one. In X and Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis and anor v Z (Children) and anor[2015] EWCA Civ 34, the Court of Appeal has held that, where such data is obtained by police in exercise of their search and seizure powers under Part II of PACE 1984, it may be retained and used only for the purposes of criminal law enforcement function. Thus, such data cannot be used, for example, in order to resolve issues of paternity in care proceedings before the family court.

The background to the appeal was that X had murdered his partner Y. In the context of care proceedings involving Y’s children, an issue had arisen as to whether X was in fact the biological father of the children. X, despite asserting that he was the children’s biological father, had refused to undergo DNA testing. In response to this refusal, the children’s guardian applied to the court for disclosure of certain DNA profiles held by the Metropolitan Police Service, particularly on the basis that those profiles could then be used to resolve the paternity issue. X objected to the disclosure. Importantly, the DNA profiles in issue had been derived from blood swabs taken by the police from the scene of the murder by the MPS under Part II PACE. It was common ground that the court could not order disclosure of those DNA profiles held by the police in exercise of their powers under Part V PACE (samples taken directly from persons). This was because there is a statutory prohibition contained in Part V of PACE which expressly prohibited the use of such materials other than for the purposes of criminal law enforcement. Munby P, who decided the case at first instance, concluded that the court had a discretion to order disclosure of the Part II DNA profiles and that the disclosure was justified, particularly in view of the Article 8 rights of the children. The MPS appealed, alongside the putative father. The Secretary of State appeared as intervenor.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. It did so on the basis that the President’s approach could not be reconciled with the statutory scheme embodied in PACE, particularly when that scheme was read in a purposive manner and having regard to the Article 8 rights of those individuals whose DNA profiles were held by the police. In reaching this conclusion, the Court relied heavily on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Marper, which itself highlighted the need for substantial controls around the handling of DNA data by the police.

Anya Proops and Sean Aughey acted for the MPS.

Rupert Paines

Information Law Conference 2015

January 23rd, 2015 by Panopticon Blog

Join us at 11KBW’s Annual Information Law Conference on 19th March 2015.  As well as providing an over-view of the key developments in the field of information law, the conference will cover a range of topical issues including: whether the law governing State surveillance is fit for purpose, the relationship between data protection and the media and whether, at 10 years old, FOIA should be seen a boon to or a burden on society. Keynote speaker to be confirmed.

Click here to download the Information Conference Programme.

Venue and Booking information

Venue The Royal College of Surgeons of England, 35 – 43 Lincoln Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE

Cost £99 + VAT (20%) = £118.80 to attend half day plus lunch; £150 + VAT (20%) = £180.00 to attend full day

EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT – 10% off if you book before 27th February 2015 on both half and full day places.

To Book To book your place on this conference please email RSVP@11kbw.com stating if you would to attend full or half day, the delegate name, firm, email address and any purchase order details you may require. You will be then sent a confirmation email of your place and invoiced. We do not have the facilities to accept payments by credit or debit cards.

CPD accredited with SRA and BSB: 4.5 hours