The High Court today severely criticised a local authority, Blackpool Borough Council, for acting vindictively to punish a law firm for bringing legal claims against it. The High Court Judge, His Honour Judge Stephen Davies, held that Blackpool Council had abused its powers when it suddenly terminated its lease with the law firm, North Solicitors.
The firm, who specialise in human rights and personal injury work for local people, were last year told by the Council they had to vacate the office space they were renting in the Council-owned premises, because the Council did not like the fact that the firm was helping local people bring claims against the Council.
Represented by Jonathan Auburn of Thirty Nine Essex Street, an expert in judicial review, the law firm brought a judicial review claim in the High Court challenging Blackpool’s decision. The case was heard in the High Court in Manchester and the decision released today.
The Judge found that the Council’s action “was, in short…an act of retaliation, pure and simple, to ‘punish’ the claimant’s firm” (para 20). The Judge described Blackpool’s actions as “vindictive … irrational” and pursuing “the objective of punishing the claimant”.
The Law Society has backed the solicitors firm, describing the Council’s actions as “inimical to the rule of law”. They also said:
“It is of serious concern that a public body would seek to use its general powers so as to punish and/or dissuade solicitors from representing individuals in claims against the State. At a time when the principle of access to justice is already under strain due to economic considerations it is particularly important that the independence of the legal profession is protected from actions which have the effect, or indeed the purpose, of seeking to dissuade our members from pursuing claims against the State…We regard this as a serious matter indeed.”
Jonathan Auburn said “The Administrative Court has held that this local authority acted vindictively and with the intention of punishing someone who had done nothing wrong. Local and central government do not often act in such a shocking manner but, when they do, they should be held to account by means of judicial review. It is all the more important now, when judicial review is so under threat from central government reforms, that we remember the vital role which it plays in protecting individuals from abuses of government power.”
Jonathan Auburn represented North Solicitors in this matter.
Jack Anderson acted for the Law Society.
To read the full judgment please click here.