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Court win for Drax over renewable energy subsidy

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Shares in UK energy company Drax leapt more than 40p after it won a High Court victory against the Department of Energy  and Climate Change (DECC) over renewable energy subsidies (14 July 2014). It is the second court win against DECC mishandling of the green energy business sector announced within days. (See previous post)

DECC had failed to accept one of Drax’s biomass conversion projects as eligible for a subsidy scheme involving contracts for difference (CfDs), intended to provide certainty on prices for renewable generation.

Mr Justice Andrews ruled that: “When properly understood, Drax’s application did satisfy the Key Criterion [for the CfD subsidy] and no decision maker, properly informed, who accepted that Drax was telling the truth …  could have concluded that it had failed to do so or that the information given by Drax was insufficient to satisfy him that it passed the test.” He added: “The matter will have to be remitted to DECC for reconsideration in the light of this judgment.”

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Contractual rights are property rights: Government blunder on feed-in tariffs

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The UK Government faces a bill for up to £200m in compensation to green energy installers that suffered losses as a result of former energy secretary Chris Huhne’s 2011 announcement on proposed cuts in environmental subsidies. The announcement led to many organisations and individuals dropping plans to install solar power with feed-in tariff (FIT) equipment that feeds electricity generated by small-scale solar panel systems into the grid, producing a payment.

A legal ruling in the High Court (Breyer Group plc & Others v DECC issued 9 July 2014 ) is the second time in a week that the government has been show to have fallen foul of the principle that the law should not be retrospectively changed if it damages people’s interests. (See the Poundland case: UK Human Rights Blog)

Are contracts property?
The High Court established in its ruling on preliminary legal issues that pre-existing contracts to supply the solar micro-generation equipment constitute “property” for the purposes of protection of property rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, Huhne’s announcement, which proposed bringing forward a reduction of the subsidised payment, constituted an “interference” with those property rights. This should potentially be compensated, said Mr Justice Coulson.

The 31 October 2011 announcement that cuts in the feed-in payment might be brought forward amounted to a retrospective change in legislation without passing new legislation through Parliament. “The proposal would have taken away existing entitlements without statutory authority.” The announcement damaged businesses and hit consumers who had planned to install the equipment on the basis of the higher payments. As such it breached ECHR Article 1 Protocol 1 (A1P1) on protection of property rights regarding contracts concluded on or before the day of the announcement.

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Mass surveillance in the UK: Charles Farr’s flawed arguments

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Hang on! Just because UK government security official Charles Farr says GCHQ et al have done nothing unlawful in their mass digital surveillance, that’s no reason to believe him. You wouldn’t believe a burglar rifling through your drawers; why believe the spokesmen for the people rifling through your personal emails and internet searches?

Farr has put in a defence in the case brought by Privacy International against the Government, not a statement of the law, yet it is being treating as gospel truth. In particular people are demanding the law be changed – conceding that the surveillance is currently lawful (among them pro-security services types such as Lady Neville-Jones).

In fact a judge has not ruled in the case yet, and there are fundamental flaws in Farr’s argument that UK-originated digital material on overseas servers is fair game even though it originated in or returned to the “British Islands” (in the quaint formulation of the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

For starters it is strongly arguable in law that nothing in the Act can sanction unreasonable mass surveillance – since that was not the purpose of the Act. RIPA was intended to enact a European Directive banning such downloading and storing of personal material and a judge will interpret it in that light. He or she is likely to take a dim view of any alleged “loopholes” in it. (This argument is made briefly below and at length here.)

But Farr’s case is further flawed – not least by a disingenuous attempt to claim parliamentary sanction for mass surveillance on the basis of an arcane exchange in the House of Lords one July evening in the year 2000.

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Squatting, adverse possession and the LASPO s.144 debacle

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Ancient Roman law gives illegal squatter £400,000 home. Or so you would think from the coverage of builder Keith Best’s Land Registry claim to have 35 Church Road, Newbury Park, Ilford, registered in his name.

The importance of the case is (or will be when it goes through appeals) that it should clarify how far the criminalisation of squatting (LASPO S.144) impacts on the law of adverse possession.

It’s a knotty problem. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 rendered squatting illegal if the occupier “is in a residential building as a trespasser having entered it as a trespasser”. The Act is in a sense retrospective. You fall within it even if you entered the premises before the Act was passed – in Best’s case around 2000.

Best unfortunately staked his adverse posession claim after the Act came into force so the Land Registry rejected it on the grounds he was an illegal trespasser according to the meaning of Section 144. Adverse possession, far from being a Roman law, is covered by Schedule 6 to the Land Registration Act 2002 which says: “A person may apply to the registrar to be registered as the proprietor of a registered estate in land if he has been in adverse possession of the estate for the period of ten years ending on the date of the application.” A further two years is allowed while the registrar contacts the registered owner (“the proprietor of the estate to which the application relates,“) plus others with a potential interest to see if they object to the transfer to a new owner.

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Paul Weller’s children: another brick in the wall of privacy law

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The judgment in the privacy case of three of pop singer Paul Weller’s children (Weller v Associated Newspapers has caused a little confusion – not least among some of the press who might be expected to need to understand it best.

 

Mr Justice Dingemans has perhaps added another small brick in the developing English law of privacy – clarifying when pictures of stars can and cannot be published when they are going about their private lives. Here’s a brief rundown.

 

There is no tort of invasion of privacy in England. You can, in general, take pictures of whomever you want so long as you aren’t invading property rights to do so. Nor, broadly speaking, are their specific rights to those images belonging to the people who feature in them.

 

However, Dingemans notes: “After the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998, claims for misuse of private information were absorbed into the established claim for breach confidence; see A v B plc [2002] EWCA Civ 337 at paragraph 4. In paragraph 53 of Douglas and others v Hello! Ltd and others (No.3) [2005] EWCA Civ 595 Lord Phillips said “we cannot pretend that we find it satisfactory to be required to shoehorn within the cause of action for breach of confidence claims for publication of unauthorised photographs of a private occasion”. (Para 20)

 

In other words a privacy law is being bit by bit put together by the courts from the old Common Law of confidence (ie misuse of confidential information) and the European Convention on Human Rights – balancing Article 8 (right to family life) with Article 10 (freedom of expression including right to publish photographs of people).

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Nigel Evans legal fees: thank the Tories we don’t have to pay

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Friends of Nigel Evans, the British House of Commons deputy speaker cleared of nine sexual offences, have complained that he has been financially wiped out by £130,000 of defence costs in the court case. And wags of a legal disposition have pointed out that he has only his own Tory-led Government to blame.

Conservative MP for Northampton South Brian Binley,  a friend and flatmate of Evans, and Tory Bob Stewart have both pointed out Evans must pay his defence costs even though he was acquitted of all charges – and the Crown Prosecution Service criticised for pursuing them. And Evans himself now says the state should pay. But none of them has made the link with Section 16A of the Prosecution of Offences Act, added by amendment to the act by the notorious Legal Aid Act (LASPO) in 2012.

This stops defence costs being awarded for those not legally aided except under limited circumstances. Costs can be awarded: Read the rest of this entry

Lord Rennard: Women should beware of slapping Old Goats

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Following the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour against the Liberal Democrats’ former chief executive Lord Rennard, some dangerous advice has been going the rounds. Basically women are told: if your chief executive touches you and you don’t like it – just slap him. Or throw drink in his face. Or give him a Chinese burn. This is the advice from Sarah Vine, Daily Mail columnist – and it is wrong. Slapping a chief executive is both a criminal and a sacking offence.

Now we must be careful. Lord Rennard has insisted no inappropriate conduct has taken place on his part. So for illustrative purposes we are going to assume that at some time, somewhere some chief executive or another has inappropriately touched a woman’s knee, rubbed another woman’s leg or put his hands down another couple of women’s backs “and places where they had absolutely no business being. We shall call our fictional chief executive “the Old Goat”.

The idea of slapping such a man seems to be based on a fanciful 1950s notion of morality. Our male lead (rather handsome with jutting jaw – so different from our own oleaginous, balding fifty-something fictional chief executive) gets a little fresh with our rather prim heroine. She delivers the slap; it knocks sense into him; he admires her feisty qualities; lust turns to love. There are flowers, a dinner date, a proposal of marriage.

None of those outcomes in reality is likely to occur – nor are they likely to be desired by the victim of our Old Goat’s attentions. The danger of resorting to violence is that it prompts only violence, and Sarah Vine is asking women who have been wronged in this way (touching people without consent and a sexual motive is a sexual assault: see Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) to expose themselves to increased violence.

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