New Judgment: R (Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council & Ors) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills  UKSC 6
25 Wednesday Feb 2015
On appeal from:  EWCA Civ 1080.
The EU distributes money from European Structural Funds to Member States in order to promote the “overall harmonious development” of the EU and in particular to reduce “disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions”. The distribution of that money in the Member State is jointly determined under a Partnership Agreement which must be proposed by the Member State and approved by the Commission.
The appellant councils in Merseyside and South Yorkshire sought to challenge the Secretary of State’s decisions on the allocation of the funds, which were based on allocations for 2013, and took no account of the transitional funding received in the earlier period. The Court dismisses the appeal by a 4-3 majority. Lord Neuberger agrees that this is “classic territory” where executive decisions should be afforded a wide margin of discretion, but emphasises that the fact that a matter is one for democratic decision does not remove the need for judicial oversight.
For the minority, the principle that a greater margin of discretion should be afforded where a decision is complex and judgment-based did not exclude closer review of a decision that was based on irrelevant considerations or failed to treat like cases alike, particularly in light of the informality of the decision-making process and the lack of consultation in this case.