And the question of what Doherty actually means rumbles on.
Central Bedfordshire Council v Taylor & Ors  EWCA Civ 613 was the Court of Appeal hearing of an appeal from a Circuit Judge’s decision to make an outright possession order and, in particular, to refuse to make findings of fact as a basis for an appeal based on Article 6. The appeal had a complicated history, the original decision was made before Doherty in the Lords was handed down and the grounds for appeal prepared in anticipation of the Lords decision, then revised afterwards from being based in the minority decision in Kay to argue a Doherty gateway B public law basis.
The facts in the case were not dissimilar to Kay. In 1993, Bedfordshire CC (as was) had leased land and dwellings to Luton for 3 years with a sublease to a housing association for assured shorthold tenancies. Lengthy negotiations over a new lease fell through and in 2007 Bedfrdshire commenced possession proceedings. Some occupants of the properties defended on the basis interference with Article 8 rights such that it was a breach of Art 6 to bring possession proceedings. The dismissal of this defence was what was appealed.
The issue before the Court of Appeal was given as how should County Court judges approach situations similar to Kay, post Doherty. Has the position changed such as to afford a possible defence to such a situation. Is it arguable that circumstances were such as to impose on the Council a duty to consider the personal circumstances of the appellants? And is the test something like Wednesbury rationality or something wider?
In the main judgment, Waller LJ considers Doran and McGlynn, in particular in view of their holding that a public law consideration wider than the Wednesbury rationality test was appropriate and, in McGlynn, an arguable defence based on the Council’s failure to carry out reasonable further investigations. But these cases concerned termination of a lease or licence (McGlynn), or statutory duties (Doran, Doherty). In this case, as in Kay, the occupants are trespassers and the Council has an undoubted right to possession.
The question is therefore has the decision in Doherty impacted on Kay. Waller LJ adopts Toulson LJ’s analysis of the decisions in Doherty set out at paras 15-22 and 48-52 of Doran, to the effect that the public law defence is not to be confined to traditional Wednesbury grounds – ‘there is no formulaic or formalistic restriction of the factors which may be relied on’ and personal circumstances are not necessarily irrelevant. However, this does not address the situation where the facts are so close to Kay.
The Council submitted that Doherty did not suggest that the decision in Kay, on the facts, would have been any different. In regard to trespassers, an authority with immediate right to decision had no obligation to consider the personal circumstances of the occupants. Even on the view of the minority in Kay, it was unarguable that a council acting reasonably would have done otherwise than seek possession.
The Secretary of State, intervening, suggested that the matter should be remitted to the County Court so that the appellants’ arguments could be fully considered and the appropriate facts found. However, it would be wrong to remit if it would serve no purpose or, if there was to be a remittance, without guidance.
For Waller LJ, Lord Hope’s ‘further explanation’ in Doherty of his statement of gateway b in Kay is noted, but his endorsement of the Qazi principle that ‘a defence to a possession order which does not challenge the law under which it is sought but is based only on the personal circumstances should be struck out’ at para 42 of Doherty is to be taken as saying that Kay would still be decided the same way. Lord Hope’s qualification of that principle must be seen in the context of the facts and law of Doherty.
While the re-interpretation of para 110 does have general application in its loosening of the restrictions on the factors able to be considered in review, Doran itself concerned similar facts to Doherty. Where Waller LJ differs from the view of Toulson LJ in Doran is on Toulson’ holding that the facts at issue were those at the point of the original decision and indeed that the decision to seek possession is the relevant decision to challenge. Waller LJ instead holds that a council may make a series of decisions as facts become known to it, up to the point of the hearing itself. If any of those decisions was shown to be ‘unreasonable’ it could be attacked.
But in the present case, this makes little difference. Where the facts are similar to Kay, a court, post-Doherty, will actually be in much the same position as it was even before the convention became law [para 42].
Waller LJ accepts that whether the decision of a local authority is ‘reasonable’ post-Doherty goes beyond the question of what is rational. A local authority should take account of the personal circumstances of an occupier known to it. But it does not follow from this that there will ever be circumstances in which it will be unreasonable to seek possession against trespassers in situations similar to Kay, where, as here, the occupants are not initially known to the authority or have any relation with it. The law allows for a period of time to bring the possession order into effect and this is sufficient.
Even where the local authority was aware of the personal circumstances of the occupiers, their obligation to take account of them could never make it unreasonable to take proceedings for possession [para 45] as the authority has an absolute right to possession. Personal circumstances are only relevant to postponing execution. There was therefore no reason to remit the case to the County Court. Appeal dismissed.
Lloyd LJ concurs. The proper decision for review in this case was the decision to pres for trial of the possession claim, once the circumstances of the occupiers had become known to authority. Accepting for the moment the appellants’ account of the facts and their circumstances, it would still make no difference. Following Lord Bingham at para 47 of Kay (and Lord Bingham was in the minority) where the pleaded facts give no special claim to remain, there is no duty to accommodate and the authority has an unqualified right to possession, possession orders would necessarily be made. There was no need to remit in this case and appeal dismissed.
Richards LJ concurred.
So there we are, for the moment at least. Post-Doherty defences do not apply to a Kay situation, where the local authority (or public body, including RSLs, post Weaver) does not have any relation to the occupiers, the occupiers are trespassers and the authority has an unqualified right to possession. Unlike termination of a lease or licence, or where a statutory duty is involved, the defence cannot succeed, with the possible exception, pace Lord Bingham, of where the facts give rise to a special claim to remain.
Now, what would this mean for ‘failed successor’ cases? McCann involved termination of a tenancy and a case like that would clearly potentially have a public law defence in Doherty form, but a failed successor? Or ‘successor’ to a tolerated trespasser (prior to 20 May 2009)? We’ll have to see, but the argument is surely that Kay would apply, absent some particularly egregious behaviour by the authority.
My guess is that this will be headed to the Supreme Court, but for the moment, public law defences would seem limited to those who have or had some contractural or statutory relation to the authority in their accommodation.