Open Rights Group. The Court of Appeal on grace periods, the consequences of judicial review and remedies for breach of (supreme) retained EU law.

A posting that is long overdue but over at GAVC law  we have lots of things coming our way and the inevitable consequence is a bit of a queue on the blog. Open Rights Group & Anor, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 1573 was held end of October and discussed remedies for breach of retained EU law, that is in essence, EU law which has force in law in the UK by virtue of the Government’s copy /paste exercise following Brexit.

In April 2021 the CA had held that that the “Immigration Exemption” (which disapplies some data protection rights where their application would be likely to prejudice immigration control) of the UK Data Protection Act 2018 is contrary to Article 23 GDPR and Article 23 of the UK GDPR: [2021] EWCA Civ 800.  However in that judgment the CA had not specified at that stage what form of relief should be granted. It does now.

The claim form sought a declaratory order, the effect of which would be to “disapply” the Immigration Exemption. The Government argue it be granted a grace period to make regulations adding to or varying the provisions. The complicating factor is that even retained EU law enjoys supremacy (not by virtue of EU law but by virtue of the Government’s choice to do so). That means that any conflict between the GDPR and domestic legislation (including primary legislation) must be resolved in favour of the former: the domestic legislation must be overridden, treated as invalid or, in the conventional language, disapplied.

[15] A quashing order would not meet with the UK constitutional understanding and its limits to the rule of judges. However must supremacy, post Brexit, mean the courts must inevitably make an immediately binding order? Warby LJ sets out the principles of EU retained law as they follow from domestic legislation (the ‘EUWA’) at [23]:

(1) A UK court must now decide any question as to the validity, meaning or effect of any retained EU law for itself: it is no longer possible to refer any matter to the CJEU: EUWA s 6(1)(b).

(2) But the general rule is that the court must decide any such question in accordance with any retained case law and any retained general principles of EU law that are relevant: EUWA s 6(3). “Retained EU case law” and “retained general principles” mean principles laid down and decisions made by the CJEU before IP completion day.

(3) When it comes to principles laid down or decisions made by the CJEU after IP completion day, the court is not bound (EUWA s 6(1)) but “may have regard” to them (EUWA s 6(2)).

(4) The position is different in a “relevant court”, which includes the Court of Appeal. Subject to an exception that does not apply here, a relevant court is not absolutely bound by any retained EU case law: EUWA s 6(4)(ba) and Regulations 1 and 4. It can depart from that law; but the test to be applied in deciding whether to do so is “the same test as the Supreme Court would apply in deciding whether to depart from the case law of the Supreme Court”: EUWA 6(5A)(c) and Regulation 5.

(5) The test the Supreme Court applies is the one laid down by the House of Lords in its Practice Statement [1966] 1 WLR 1234, when Lord Gardiner LC said

“Their Lordships regard the use of precedent as an indispensable foundation upon which to decide what is the law and its application to individual cases. It provides at least some degree of certainty upon which individuals can rely in the conduct of their affairs, as well as a basis for orderly development of legal rules. Their Lordships nevertheless recognise that too rigid adherence to precedent may lead to injustice in a particular case and also unduly restrict the proper development of the law. They propose, therefore, to modify their present practice and, while treating former decisions of this House as normally binding, to depart from a previous decision when it appears right to do so. In this connection they will bear in mind the danger of disturbing retrospectively the basis on which contracts, settlements of property and fiscal arrangements have been entered into and also the especial need for certainty as to the criminal law. This announcement is not intended to affect the use of precedent elsewhere than in this House.”

Relevant CJEU authority is LibertyLa Quadrature, A v Gewestelijke Stedenbouwkundige Ambtenaar van het Department ruimte Vlaanderen (Case C-24/19) (“Gewestelijke”), and B v Latvijas Republikas Saeima Case C-439/19, EU-C-2021-504 (“B v Latvia”). [24] Gewestelijke was decided before IP completion day. We are not absolutely bound by them, but we should decide this case in accordance with the principles they set out, unless we think it right to depart from those cases for the reasons set out by Lord Gardiner. B v Latvia was decided after IP completion day, so we can “have regard” to it.

[26] Warby LJ suggests 3 options:

One is to hold that since the power to suspend relief in respect of substantive laws that is identified in Gewestelijke is one that can only be exercised by the CJEU, it cannot be exercised at all in E&W. This is rejected [27] as an unduly mechanistic and literal approach, tending to subvert rather than promote the legal policy that underlies this aspect of the CJEU jurisprudence: it would remove from the judicial armoury a power that is, by definition, essential. 

An alternative would be what Warby LJ called “the Regulation 5 approach”: to apply the principles laid down in the 1966 HoL Practice Statement and depart from the CJEU case-law, holding that the power which, in that jurisprudence, is reserved to the CJEU should now be treated as available to at least some UK Courts. This [28] enable a court to perform one of its essential tasks: averting legal disorder and is an option which Warby LJ suggests is open to the Court of Appeal.

A third option is to follow and apply the CJEU jurisprudence as to the existence and limits of the power to suspend, but not that aspect of the case-law that reserves the exercise of that power to the European Court. That [31] is Warby LJ’s preferred route however he decides (and the other LJs agree) that there is at this time no need to choose between both options for in essence they lead to the same result in the case at issue. The Court concludes that the Government were given time until 31 January 2022 for the Data Protection Act 2018 to be amended so as to remedy the incompatibility. Whether the Government have done so, I leave to data privacy lawyers to verify.

Underhill LJ emphasises one point [57] ‘that, as Warby LJ says at para. 13 of his judgment, our power to suspend our declaration – in practice, to suspend the disapplication of the Immigration Exemption – derives entirely from retained EU law. It was not argued that the Court had any equivalent power at common law.’

This is an important judgment viz the application of retained EU law but also wider, viz the consequences of judicial review which is a hot topic at the moment in more than just the UK.

Geert.

CJEU finds Aarhus does not add value in Belgian VAT case.

As a practising lawyer registered to the Belgian Bar I had more than a passing interest in C‑543/14 Orde van Vlaamse Balies v Ministerraad. The case was held on 28 July. At issue is the reversal of the Belgian exemption of legal services from value-added tax (VAT). Of interest for this blog was the Bar Council’s argument that making legal services subject to VAT endangers access to court for individuals. Corporations recover said VAT from the tax their own sales incur. For them, making legal services subject to VAT has zero impact on their books.

The Bar Council sought support among others in the Aarhus Convention, particularly Article 9(4) and (5) on access to court:

‘3.       In addition and without prejudice to the review procedures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, each Party shall ensure that, where they meet the criteria, if any, laid down in its national law, members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment.

4.       In addition and without prejudice to paragraph 1 above, the procedures referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 above shall provide adequate and effective remedies, including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive. Decisions under this article shall be given or recorded in writing. Decisions of courts, and whenever possible of other bodies, shall be publicly accessible.

5.       In order to further the effectiveness of the provisions of this article, each Party shall ensure that information is provided to the public on access to administrative and judicial review procedures and shall consider the establishment of appropriate assistance mechanisms to remove or reduce financial and other barriers to access to justice.’

Perhaps taking inspiration from the Grand Chamber’s approach in Vereniging Milieudefensie, and consistent with the suggestion of Sharpston AG, the five judges Chamber dismissed direct effect for Articles 9(4) and (5) of Aarhus, mostly because of the Conventions deference in Article 9(3) to ‘national law’.

Given the increasing (but as noted recently qualified; see also here) cloud the CJEU’s Grand Chamber had been given Aarhus, this finding by a five judge chamber that Aarhus Articles 9(4) and (5) do not have direct effect is a little awkward. It also puts the Grand Chamber itself in a challenging position. There are quite a number of Aarhus-related cases pending. Will this chamber’s view on 9(4) and (5) be followed by the assembled top dogs? And if it is not, can the Grand Chamber overrule or distinguish without embarrassment?

Geert.

Quattuor, not trias politica. Delegation of legislative power to agencies. Gorsuch addresses the Montesquieuan elephant in the room.

Thank you Alison Frankel at Reuters for bringing to my attention Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch. An immigration case which triggered a delightfully written judgment by Gorsuch CJ on the delegation of power to agencies. In particular the founding fathers’ intention, against the background of separation of powers,  with agencies room for statutory interpretation.

Both Ms Frankel’s article and judge Gorsuch’s pieces do much more justice to the debate than I can do in a blog post so I will leave readers first of all to read both. Judge Gorsuch, referring to precedent (Chevron in particular), notes

‘There’s an elephant in the room with us today. We have studiously attempted to work our way around it and even left it unremarked. But the fact is Chevron and Brand X permit executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design. Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.’

Ms Frankel notes that Chevron directed courts defer to executive-branch agencies in the interpretation of ambiguous statutes. Justice Gorsuch reviews what exactly was intended by Chevron and points to the difficulty in excessive deferring to agencies’ interpretation of statutes.

I would summarise his views as ‘Congress meant trias, not quattuor politica.’

My knowledge of US civil procedure does not stretch to understanding what impact Gorsuch CJ’s views have on current US administrative /public law. Anyone out there who can tell me please do. At any rate, the judgment is great material for comparative constitutional law classes, the CJEU’s ECB (C-270/12) case being an obvious port of call.

Geert.

Court of Justice dismisses Vereniging Milieudefensie in air quality appeal. Aarhus not always the jawbreaker in judicial review.

In Joined Cases C‑401/12 P to C‑403/12 P, the issues at stake are the scope of judicial review (in the specific context of information requests), the EU’s long and difficult relationship with locus standi in environmental matters (again though within the perhaps more narrow context of access to information), the correct implementation of the Aarhus Convention, and the direct effect of said Convention. The judgment which the ECJ issued yesterday, underlines the need to review the direct effect of international law on a case-by-case and indeed article-by-article basis. While it is clear that the European Court of Justice overall has great sympathy for the binding impact of the Aarhus Convention (see i.a. my postings on the ECJ’s judgments in cases related to the cost of environmental litigation), in this case the relevant environmental organisations failed to convince the ECJ that Article 9 of the Convention has direct effect.

Article 9 Aarhus provides a review procedure in the event requests for information have been refused. (Readers may wish to consult Article 9 themselves to judge direct effect or lack of it themselves).

Regulation 1367/2006 implements the Aarhus Convention is-a-vis the EU Institutions. The case concerns Article 10 of that regulation, entitled ‘Request for internal review of administrative acts’, which provides in paragraph 1 thereof: ‘Any non-governmental organisation which meets the criteria set out in Article 11 is entitled to make a request for internal review to the Community institution or body that has adopted an administrative act under environmental law or, in case of an alleged administrative omission, should have adopted such an act.

Article 2(1)(g) of that Regulation defines ‘administrative act’ as meaning: ‘any measure of individual scope under environmental law, taken by a Community institution or body, and having legally binding and external effects’.

The Netherlands, in accordance with Article 22 of the ambient air quality Directive, Directive 2008/50, had notified the Commission that it had postponed the deadline for attaining the annual limit values for nitrogen dioxide in nine zones and that it was availing itself of a specific exemption from the obligation to apply the daily and annual limit values for particulate matter. The Commission accepted that postponement. Vereniging Milieudefensie and Stichting Stop Luchtverontreiniging Utrecht submitted a request to the Commission for internal review of that decision pursuant to aforementioned Article 10(1). The EC refused internal review.  The Commission considered the request inadmissible as the concerned acts in their view were not “administrative acts” as defined in Article 2(1)(g), not being, the EC argued , of ‘individual scope’ but rather of general application.

The General Court sided with applicants: because Article 10(1) of Regulation 1367/2006 limits the concept of “acts” that can be challenged by NGOs to “administrative acts” defined in Article 2(1)(g) of the Regulation as “measures of individual scope”, it argued that the Regulation is not compatible with Article 9(3) Aarhus. That judgment was appealed by many. The AG in current case also sided with the applicants. (Albeit following a different reasoning than the General court).

The ECJ itself disagreed. The provisions of an international agreement to which the European Union is a party can be relied on in support of an action for annulment of an act of secondary EU legislation or an exception based on the illegality of such an act only where, first, the nature and the broad logic of that agreement do not preclude it and, secondly, those provisions appear, as regards their content, to be unconditional and sufficiently precise. (Ex multi, the ECJ quoted its judgment in the Emissions Trading Scheme case, C-366/10).

Article 9(3) Aarhus, the Court held, does not contain any unconditional and sufficiently precise obligation capable of directly regulating the legal position of individuals and therefore does not meet those conditions: since only members of the public who ‘meet the criteria, if any, laid down in … national law’ are entitled to exercise the rights provided for in Article 9(3), that provision is subject, in its implementation or effects, to the adoption of a subsequent measure at the national level. The Aarhus Contracting Parties enjoy have a broad margin of discretion when defining the rules for the implementation of the ‘administrative or judicial procedures’ (at 59 in fine).

We were quite getting used to Aarhus being employed as a jawbreaker by the ECJ and national courts alike. I am not saying those days are over. However Vereniging Milieudefensie does show both that we cannot assume the Convention’s empowering effect for all of its provisions, and secondly, that at the level of the Convention itself, beefing up one or two articles would certainly assist its implementation. (That in itself, of course, may become more difficult the more frequent the ECJ and national courts both in the EU and elsewhere, employ Aarhus against unwilling State authorities).

Geert.

PS note that in Joined Cases C‑404/12 P and C‑405/12 P, Stichting Natuur en Milieu, the ECJ mirrors this judgment with respect to an internal review of a Regulation setting maximum residue levels for pesticides.

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