Wednesday, July 22, 2015

No remedy when a Secretary of State breaks the law

In July 2013 the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [SSCLG] issued a Written Ministerial Statement [WMS] providing that Traveller Appeals in the Green Belt [GB] would no longer be decided by independent Inspectors but were ‘recovered’ – that is, decided by the SS himself. Rather than being issued around 8 weeks after the hearing, these recovered Appeals took literally years. Two Travellers, Mrs Moore and Mrs Coates, challenged the WMS in Court and on January 21, 2015 Mr Justice Gilbart allowed both of their Judicial Review applications. The judge said:

I have found that the challenges based on breaches of the Equality Act 2010 and of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights have succeeded. Both are part of the law of England and Wales. These are not to be dismissed as technical breaches.. The Article 6 challenge has succeeded because substantial delays have occurred in dealing with the appeals of Mrs Moore and Ms Coates, and with many other cases. In the context of delay, Article 6 of the ECHR does no more than encapsulate the long standing principle of the common law that justice should not be unreasonably delayed, as it was and has been here. The Claimants were and are entitled to have their appeals determined within a reasonable time…I have no doubt that the Secretary of State and his Ministers will not seek to carry on a practice which this Court has ruled unlawful. …But it must also be said that the issues raised by Mrs Moore and Ms Coates are not limited to their appeals. There are, as the figures set above demonstrate, many others whose appeals have been recovered and who must be experiencing delays, as are those who oppose their appeals. If, as appears to be the case, the appeals were recovered not because of their merits but because they were cases of travellers’ pitches in the Green Belt, then the effect of the judgment will be to call into question the legality of many other recoveries…”

Following this judgment, the SSCLG ‘de-recovered’ all those Appeals that were undecided and claimed he had no power to revoke the many decisions he had taken pursuant to the unlawful WMS (which is the subject of on-going litigation). For Mrs Moore and Mrs Coates, their wait was not yet over, despite the Court having found unlawful delay. When the target date for issuing Mrs Coates’ Appeal passed at the end of June, a further Judicial Review was threatened if the Decision was not issued by 17.00 on July 15, 2015.  Both Mrs Coates and Mrs Moore’s Appeals were issued within 5 minutes of each other just after lunch on that day – and both Appeals were allowed. The planning consultant for both appellants, who was also their expert witness in the High Court, was Dr Angus Murdoch MRTPI ( For a commentary on the Green Belt recovery cases by the Community Law Partnership  see
None of the Travellers whose appeals were delayed by the unlawful actions of the SSCLG has received any compensation for the stress and uncertainty he caused them.

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