Case Comment: Hunt v North Somerset Council  UKSC 51
05 Wednesday Aug 2015
The appellant, Mr Hunt, is a young adult with ADHD and other learning difficulties and behavioural problems. He brought a claim for judicial review of the respondent council’s decision to cut spending on youth services. Cuts to youth services were made in the amount of £364,793 and the consequence, Mr Hunt alleged, was that the council brought itself into breach of its obligations to provide adequate resources for 13-20 year olds and 20-25 year olds with learning difficulties.
The background to the case and the findings of the courts below are set out in more detail in the Case Preview on this blog but, in essence, Mr Hunt claimed that in cutting the budget for youth services, and thereby cutting social provision for 13-20 year olds or 20-25 year olds with learning difficulties, the council had breached section 507B of the Education Act 1996 and section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. Mr Hunt sought an order quashing the council’s decision to approve the budget cuts.
Mr Hunt lost his case at first instance, but was granted permission to appeal on a small number of points. On appeal the Court of Appeal found substantively in Mr Hunt’s favour (holding that the council failed in its statutory obligations), but nevertheless held that it could not allow the remedy requested (a quashing order) as too much time had passed since the council had implemented the cuts and any undoing of those cuts would cause a great many financial and bureaucratic issues. On the basis that Mr Hunt had not been granted a remedy, the Court of Appeal considered that judgment had been in favour of the council and that accordingly Mr Hunt should pay the council’s costs.
Mr Hunt appealed against (a) the court’s decision not to grant a remedy and (b) the court’s order that he pay the council’s costs.
Supreme Court Decision
In a very concise single judgment provided by Lord Toulson, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal had erred in finding that Mr Hunt had been unsuccessful in bringing his appeal and in further finding that he should pay the council’s costs. Lord Toulson clarified that “the appellant had succeeded on both the issues as to the respondent’s statutory duty” and that “there were wider lessons for local authorities to learn from the case about their duties under each of the relevant sections”. Mr Hunt should therefore, the court held, be regarded as having succeeded in his appeal.
Lord Toulson stated that denying Mr Hunt his costs and ordering him to pay the other party’s costs could be a serious public interest issue. He noted that “to deny the appellant his costs would be likely in practice to dissuade claimants from pursuing legitimate public law challenges”. On this basis he asserted that “if a party who has been given leave to bring a judicial review claim succeeds in establishing…that the defendant acted unlawfully, some good reason would have to be shown why he should not recover his reasonable costs”.
The court therefore reversed the decision of the court below and held that Mr Hunt should be awarded his costs. It went on, however, to identify “good reason” why Mr Hunt should not recover 100% of his costs: relying on the fact that Mr Hunt’s first instance claim had been significantly wider than the issues on which he succeeded on appeal. The costs awarded were two-thirds.
On the question of remedy, the court identified that Mr Hunt had requested no alternate remedy to a quashing order and that, as a quashing order would be unreasonable in the circumstances, it was acceptable for the court to deny Mr Hunt a remedy.
The case is interesting as, given the breadth of the court’s discretion in relation to costs; it is not common for costs awards to be disputed, at least not at Supreme Court level. However the present case is likely to be viewed as somewhat of an anomaly, as many would query how often it will come to pass that a party successfully convinces the court of the merits of his case but fails to obtain a remedy.
Lord Toulson, in his judgment, made some interesting observations regarding the court’s power to rule on remedies and in particular its obligation to make a declaratory order even where one is not requested by the appellant. Lord Toulson emphasised that “there is no “must” about making a declaratory order”, and that “if a party who has the benefit of experienced legal representation does not seek a declaratory order, the court is under no obligation to make or suggest it”. The statements highlight the duty of appellants – and their advisors – to properly put forward their case and to set out all of their desired remedies. It is clear from this ruling that parties cannot and should not rely on the courts to reach conclusions they have not guided the court to reach, nor to award remedies which they have not requested.