Tag Archives: Lord Neuberger

The celebrity threesome and a judicial foursome

Has the UK Supreme Court attempted to put the frighteners on the British press in the “celebrity threesome” sex case of PJS v News Group? The matter has not yet come to full trial, yet Lord Mance, who gave the lead judgment from the interim injunction hearing, has already accepted there is no public interest in the issue of who is PJS, the celebrity in the threesome.

Does this mean the Sun on Sunday, seeking to overturn an injunction against naming the alleged adulterer and his spouse, known as YMA, has been declared the loser before the case is heard?

Lord Mance has also suggested the Supreme Court might be amenable to establishing that damages for publishing such stories could be exemplary (a notion rejected in Mosley v News Group at a lower court level); or perhaps there could be innovative use of an “account of profits” – in effect handing over profit gained from use of private material. In Douglas v Hello regarding Hello’s unauthorised coverage of the Douglas/Zeta-Jones wedding, Lord Phillips said: “Such an approach may also serve to discourage any wrongful publication, at least where it is motivated by money.”

Arguably the court has also favoured the extension of the right to privacy beyond the limits set in the Human Rights Act and (at least until recent years) by Common Law – to the way a story is told rather than the mere confidential facts – thus embedding the so-called judge-made privacy law.

Lord Mance, in introducing his judgment to the press, said this (according to the Guardian):

“There is no public interest, however much it may be of interest to some members of the public, in publishing kiss-and-tell stories or criticisms of private sexual conduct, simply because the persons involved are well-known; and so there is no right to invade privacy by publishing them. It is different if the story has some bearing on the performance of a public office or the correction of a misleading public impression cultivated by the person involved. But … that does not apply here.” 

 This is subtly different from the rather more circumspect phraseology of Mance’s actual judgment, on behalf of himself and three other justices:

There is on present evidence no public interest in any legal sense in the story, however much the respondents may hope that one may emerge on further investigation and/or in evidence at trial, and it [lifting the injunction] would involve significant additional intrusion into the privacy of the appellant, his partner and their children.” (para 44; emphasis added)

The judgment is, quite correctly, hedged around with qualifications whereas the press statement is boldly assertive – and arguably misleading, suggesting that the highest court in the land has established a legal principle and found the Sun on Sunday outside it in seeking to run the PJS story. Why the difference? Continue reading

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Arnold v Britton: Lord Neuberger abolishes common sense

Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court, has issued one of his presidential proclamations – which is what he does when he wishes to change the law from his lofty but unaccountable position. Nominally the case he was considering, Arnold v Britton & Others, was a simple enough matter regarding service charges for a set of chalets on the Gower peninsula: clause 3(2) of the lease said the price for work such as mowing grass, maintaining roads through the site and sewers &c was to be £90 in 1974 rising by 10% a year; how should this be interpreted nearly 40 years on when the annual figure was more than £3,000 per chalet and rising? (Inflation would produced a figure of less than £800 by 2012.)

If the charge were truly to rise by 10% a year the lessor would be making a very substantial surplus over the term of the lease thanks to compounding (Year 2: £90 + £9 = £99; year 3: £99 + £9.90 = £108.90 and so on annually.) As Davis LJ in the Court of Appeal noted:

 “The figures before us are illustrative of the consequences. For a lease on a one year compounded uplift, the annual service charge payable was, for the year end 2012, some £3,060. At the same compounded annual rate of increase, the projected annual sum payable for service charges in the last year of the term stands to be some £1,025,004: this for modest holiday chalets, the use of which is restricted to half of each year.”

That’s a million pounds per chalet. There were 25 involved in the litigation but 91 in total, some with a less onerous system of payment for services. The outcomes would vary depending on when the leases were issued. Nevertheless, if the clause in the lease were allowed to stand, the lessors would have pulled in hundreds of millions in pure profit over the 99 years of the lease. This on a term of the lease which, it is axiomatic, should not be profit-making since it is merely for the lessor to recover expenditure on ongoing maintenance of the common facilities (see Lease – though holiday chalet leases aren’t covered by legislation for homes).  Continue reading

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Neuberger, Charles’s black spider memos – and the coming constitutional crisis

Judges in Britain are not supposed to strike down primary legislation that has passed through a sovereign Parliament. Yet that, on the face of it, is what seems to have happened in the UK Supreme Court’s judgment on Prince Charles’s “black spider memos”. And it is deeply paradoxical that it is Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, who has committed this apparently unconstitutional act, striking at a core “democratic” principle – that Members of Parliament (albeit a chunk of them unelected) pass laws, not judges.

For Neuberger has in the past expressed fears about the UK Supreme Court becoming a “constitutional court” with a dangerous potential for defying Parliament. In a 2009 BBC interview when he was Master of the Rolls (having refused to continue his role as a House of Lords judge into the new Supreme Court) he talked of the danger of “mucking around” with the British Constitution saying there was a risk  “of judges arrogating to themselves greater powers than they have at the moment”.   Continue reading

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Newhaven Port: Why UK Supreme Court ruled beach cannot be village green

There was bad news and worse news for village green campaigners in the long UK Supreme Court judgment in R (Newhaven Port & Properties Ltd) v East Sussex County Council. The council and locals have lost the use of West Beach on the Sussex coast as the local port authority seeks to develop the port. The worse news is that the court has sought to close off all hope of turning beaches into village greens to protect them from development.

The reasons for rejecting the Newhaven village green claim are complex and rather narrow – though they will stymie many village green claims against public authorities or companies acting on their behalf with statutory duties and powers.

But the Supreme Court justices also allowed themselves free rein to preempt any wider bathing beach claims that fall outside the limited Newhaven definitions. Although they didn’t come to a final conclusion on this, Lord Carnwath did much of the spadework that would suggest village green applications on beaches would not be entertained. Consideration of the wider points will require another post at some time. Here the specifics of Newhaven are examined.

The Supreme Court case 2015
East Sussex County Council decided to register West Beach as a “town or village green” under the Commons Act 2006. Such registration gives certain planning protections to land and has been used to prevent development. Anyone can apply for registration for land where (according to Section 15(2) the Act

“a) a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years [the prescription period]; and 

(b) they continue to do so at the time of the application.” 



Crucially “as of right” means without specific permission from the owner: “nec vi, nec clam, nec precario” (not by force, nor stealth, nor the licence of the owner – precario meaning a permission that can be easily withdrawn). In April 2006, before the Act came into force, the owner of the beach, Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd (NPP), a statutory port authority, fenced it off to keep people away. Objectors said the public had established the required 20 years of use before the fencing went up. They said their use must have been “as of right”, meaning they behaved as if they had the right to be there even though they didn’t. There had previously been no fences or warning notices for example.

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Barkas case: Judicial anarchy on the village green

Was the Supreme Court right to overrule the leading village greens case of R (Beresford) v Sunderland City Council (2003) in its recent judgment in R (Barkas) v North Yorkshire County Council (2014; pdf)? There is a strong argument to suggest Lord Neuberger et al have overstepped the mark in declaring Beresford no longer good law – in a gross breach of the rules of judicial precedent on which our law relies. The result will be that it will be far more difficult from now on to have land designated as village greens, protecting it from development.

  The Supreme Court is supposed to accept earlier judgments of the same court, even if the current incumbents think they are wrong, unless there are very good reasons not to, such as a material change in circumstances or strong public interest. That allows for legal certainty, so people can act according to the known law, as examined and approved by the highest court in the land, rather than seek to rerun a similar case a few years later in the hope that the judicial dice might fall a different way. That is the principle that Neuberger et al have thrown to the four winds in disapproving Barkas.

   There are supposed to be limitations on the rare occasions when the Supreme Court can breach precedent and overrule itself. In particular the overruling must help to resolve the case before them. That was not so in Barkas. Lower courts and the Supreme Court itself had all resolved the case (rejecting the application to turn a piece of land in Whitby into a village green) by distinguishing it from Beresford – different facts, different law. There was no requirement to then go on to overrule Beresford – indeed the rule is that they should not go on to overrule the earlier case. But the Supreme Court Justices did so anyway.

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