This is the latest in our series of quarterly local government update blogs, which will enable readers to catch up on the most important cases, issues or developments in local government from February to April 2016.
Please feel free to submit a comment below or send us an Ask query if you have any views on the cases, issues, or legal developments covered or if you think we have missed something that should be brought to the attention of local government practitioners.
In this post we look at:
- Cases of interest to local authorities.
- Various legislative and other developments of interest to local authority lawyers.
CASES OF INTEREST TO LOCAL AUTHORITIES
High Court rules claims of harassment on estate wrongly struck out (CN and another v Poole Borough Council)
The High Court has held that the claims of two boys against Poole Borough Council for negligence in failing to protect them from harassment from neighbours on the estate where they lived were wrongly struck out. The court considered that the issue of whether a common law duty of care was owed by the council to the boys depended upon a full examination of the facts and it was not appropriate to determine that issue on an application to strike out the claim. Therefore, the boys’ appeal was allowed and the order striking out their claims was set aside.
If the case proceeds to a full trial, it will be interesting to see whether the court considers the case falls within one of those categories of cases where public authorities have carried out acts, entered into relationships or undertaken responsibilities, which give rise to a common law duty of care. A duty of care cannot be said to exist simply because of a public law failure to carry out a duty or exercise a power.
High Court holds that social workers suspending referrals to care home under investigation were not guilty of misfeasance in public office (Menon v Herefordshire Council)
The High Court has held that local authority social workers involved in suspending referrals to a care home, which resulted in the residents moving out of the home, were not guilty of misfeasance in public office.
This decision will provide some reassurance for local authorities facing legal challenges from care homes alleging that their social workers have acted improperly by suspending referrals to those homes and are guilty of misfeasance.
High Court rules on correct method for appealing merits of a council tax liability order (Okon v London Borough of Lewisham)
The High Court has confirmed the correct way to appeal a council tax liability order where it is the substantive liability that is being challenged.
The applicant (O) had a bankruptcy order made against her following a number of liability orders based on unpaid council tax in respect of three properties that she owned. O argued that she was not liable for payment of council tax as the properties were tenanted at the time and therefore it was the tenants who were liable. O was incorrectly advised to appeal her liability for the outstanding council tax and the subsequent liability orders to the magistrates’ court rather than to the Valuation Tribunal as set out in section 16 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992.
The High Court noted that the case demonstrated the “degree of uncertainty” about the enforcement of council tax liability orders and the correct route of appeal when challenging liability.
LGO emphasises importance of recording reasons for planning decisions (Investigation into Erewash Borough Council)
The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has published a report following its investigation involving Erewash Borough Council in Derbyshire, which highlights the importance of planning committees clearly recording the reasons for their decisions. The LGO stated that recording reasons was particularly important when the relevant decisions conflicted with planning officers’ recommendations.
The report may also be of interest to local government decision-makers in areas other than planning, due to the importance of transparency in the decision-making process.
VARIOUS LEGISLATIVE AND OTHER DEVELOPMENTS OF INTEREST TO LOCAL AUTHORITY LAWYERS
On 16 March 2016 the Childcare Bill 2015-16 was enacted to become the Childcare Act 2016. The substantive provisions of the Act will come into force on a date to be appointed by regulations.
On 11 February 2016, the Byelaws (Alternative Procedure) (England) Regulations 2016 (SI 2016/165) were made. The regulations came into force on 3 March 2016.
On 2 February 2016, the Local Government (Standards Committees, Investigations, Dispensations and Referral) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (SI 2016/85) were laid before the National Assembly for Wales. The regulations came into force on 1 April 2016.
On 20 January 2016, the Local Area Referendum (Disposal of School Playing Fields) Bill 2015-16 was published. The Private Members Bill had originally been introduced to Parliament on 29 June 2015. It started its second reading on 22 January 2016.
On 12 April 2016, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government responded to Tower Hamlets Council’s latest progress reports on its Best Value Action Plan. Following a series of allegations regarding the council’s non-compliance with the best value duty when considering service provision, a report was commissioned by the government in 2014. The report was highly critical of the council and concluded that in a number of cases the best value duty had not been complied with. Under an agreed Best Value Action Plan, the council is obligated to provide six-monthly updates to the Secretary of State detailing progress towards its compliance with the best value action duty.
On 11 April 2016, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers published guidance for Chief Officers on publicity rules surrounding the EU referendum.
On 23 March 2016, the Home Office published an updated version of its Prevent duty guidance. Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 contains the Prevent duty, a duty on specified authorities to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. The guidance has now been updated to include a Prevent e-learning training package, to assist local authorities in implementation of the Prevent duty.
On 23 March 2016, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published a new policy paper, Fighting fraud and corruption locally 2016 to 2019. The policy paper supersedes a previous paper published in 2011, and will form the new counter fraud and corruption strategy for local government.
On 21 March 2016, the DCLG published guidance to local authorities planning to dispose of land assets, following the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget that local authorities will work with central government to release surplus land for new homes.
On 3 March 2016, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced a “root and branch review” of local authority regulation of businesses.
On 19 February 2016, the Cabinet Office published a report on the outcomes of its consultation on a draft code of practice setting out language requirements for public sector workers.
On 16 February 2016, the DCLG published a summary of responses to its consultation on establishing a combined authority for Tees Valley, which ran from 28 October to 9 December 2015.
On 10 February 2016, the Cabinet Office published guidance for directors of companies fully or partly owned by the public sector.
On 25 January 2016, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee published its First Report of Session 2015-16 on Devolution: the next five years and beyond.
The House of Commons Library has published briefing papers:
- On the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s role and the proposals for its reform.
- Discussing overview and scrutiny in local government, covering the legislation governing the establishment of overview and scrutiny committees.
- Covering the legislation governing the provision of public libraries in England.
- On proposals to introduce new rules and guidance limiting the extent to which local authorities can use boycotts in their procurement and pensions investment policies.
- On the political convention of “purdah” before elections and referendums.