Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

18Apr 2024

High Court rules Westminster Council’s housing policy unlawful

18th April 2024|

But child survivor still waiting to be reunited with her mum in safe home.

PILC is relieved that the High Court has ruled a housing policy that denied a child survivor of sexual abuse and her mother a safe home to be unlawful. 

The Court found Westminster’s ‘reciprocal transfer’ policy to be indirectly discriminatory against women and girls and a breach of the council’s public sector equality duty. It also found the decision to refuse a reciprocal transfer in breach of the council’s obligations to properly consider the needs of a child.

The Background

The Claimant is a social housing tenant in a London borough. Whilst at that property, the Claimant’s child daughter was sexually abused by a neighbour over a number of years. 

As a result, the daughter has experienced significant mental health issues, including drug use and self-harm. She has suffered a period of homelessness and has been excluded from school. 

Since learning of the abuse in 2021, the Claimant has worked tirelessly to find her and her daughter somewhere safe to live, away from the abusive neighbour. She has faced extraordinary barriers in doing so. 

To safeguard her daughter, the Claimant has been forced to send her to live with relatives abroad. The Claimant meanwhile continues to live next to her daughter’s abuser. 

Unable to find a safe property within their own stock, the Claimant’s social housing provider contacted Westminster to request what’s known as a reciprocal transfer. That request was refused by Westminster on the basis that they would not allow the family to ‘queue jump’ those in other priority groups. 

It was this decision that we sought to challenge.

The Legal Challenge

Survivors fleeing domestic and sexual abuse are often unable to return home. For council and housing association tenants, fleeing accommodation can result in a loss of social housing altogether. With only 12% of those fleeing domestic abuse subsequently being granted social housing, this loss is often permanent. 

Reciprocal transfers enable social tenants who are at risk of abuse or violence to move to a safe area while retaining their tenancy. 

Women are disproportionately more likely to need a reciprocal housing transfer than men. The Pan-London Housing Reciprocal Scheme published data showing that almost 9 out of 10 applicants under the scheme are women, and 63% of those were fleeing some form of violence against women and girls. 

Westminster’s policy on reciprocal transfers is contained in paragraph 5.3 of their Housing Allocation Scheme, and imposes significant obstacles to those seeking to obtain a reciprocal transfer.

The Claimant’s case was that the policy fails to ensure that those forced to flee across boroughs to escape domestic and sexual abuse would be adequately protected. 

We sought to challenge the reciprocal transfer policy, and the refusal of our client’s reciprocal transfer under that policy, on the following grounds: 

  • That the policy indirectly discrimination on the basis of sex contrary to Equality Act 2010, s19; 
  • That there was a failure to comply with the public sector equality duty under Equality Act 2010, s149; 
  • That there was a breach of the Claimant’s rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (read with Article 8); 
  • That Westminster had failed to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under Children Act 2004, s11; and
  • That Westminster Council had unlawfully ‘fettered its discretion’ in relation to those seeking a reciprocal transfer.

The Judgment

The Court found that Westminster’s reciprocal transfer policy effectively imposed a residence requirement, subjecting those who were not Westminster tenants to a more onerous set of conditions than those who were Westminster tenants. 

In the absence of any evidence filed by Westminster to indicate otherwise, the Court found that Westminster was not compliant with its public sector equality duty in respect of the reciprocal transfer policy. The Court also found that the policy was indirectly discriminatory on the basis of sex and that Westminster had failed to adequately justify that discrimination. 

The Court concluded that there had additionally been a failure to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the Claimant’s individual case.  

In light of the finding that both the policy and the decision were unlawful, the Court did not reach a conclusion on the other grounds. 

The Court ordered that Westminster: 

  1. Review its reciprocal transfer policy and as part of that review undertake an equality impact assessment, taking into account representations made by the Public Interest Law Centre;
  2. Reconsider the Claimant’s application for reciprocal transfer within 28 days, as though she were a tenant of Westminster; and 
  3. Pay the Claimant damages. 

A Warning to Other Local Authorities

Far more needs to be done by local authorities nationally to ensure that survivors of domestic and sexual abuse are able to maintain their social housing when fleeing abuse. 

PILC’s Sam Tippet said “It’s a relief that the Court has found Westminster Council’s policy unlawful. We hope that the council now make due amends, and find this family a safe place to live as a matter of urgency.”

He added: “Time and time again those fleeing abuse are being forced by councils to give up social housing. Survivors are having to fight to save their housing security at a time when they are suffering extreme trauma and fear. Councils must take responsibility and properly protect survivors when they most need it, instead of causing them further harm and distress.” 

Our client was represented by counsel Stephanie Harrison KC and Nadia O’Mara of the Garden Court Public Law Team with Franck Magennis previously instructed as junior counsel.


Too often, local authorities and housing associations fail to safeguard tenants who are escaping abuse. 

PILC aims to hold housing associations and local authorities to account so they can’t deny those fleeing abuse the right to somewhere safe to live.

If you need advice or representation, contact office@pilc.org.uk. 

4Apr 2024

Ousted to set an example

4th April 2024|

Ten people to be evicted from the area on the Thames where they’ve lived for up to 17 years after the Environmental Agency exercises control over unregistered land.

Ten people have been ousted from the place they have lived for several years by the Environment Agency (EA).

The EA issued possession proceedings to the ten defendants last year. It alleged that the residents were preventing others from sailing, mooring and enjoying public right of navigation despite the fact that many other boats are permanently moored in the same area – and still are.

Following the judgement made in February, the defendants may be evicted from their moorings and have nowhere to live on their boats.

Who owns the riverbank?

The EA has statutory powers to regulate the Thames and owns the riverbed. They also believed that they owned the bank of the river itself – but this currently remains unregistered with His Majesty’s Land Registry (HMLR).

It seems as though the EA has issued the proceedings against these residents so that no one can be found to have a better claim to the land than they do when they pursue their application to register this part of riverbank with HMLR.

The legal case

PILC acted for five of the ten residents affected by the possession proceedings. The defendant residents built the legal case with PILC solicitor Keith Coughtrie. It contained the following defences:

  • they were in occupation of the riverbank
  • some had already tried to register the land themselves by adverse possession of land (a legal principle where someone can gain ownership of another person’s land by openly using it without permission for a specified period (usually 10-12 years), while meeting certain criteria.)
  • they had riparian rights through custom to moor on the Thames
  • some boaters already have temporary planning permission to residentially occupy the area
  • evicting the boaters would interfere with rights under Article 8 of The Human Rights Act (the right to a home).

A less intrusive method of the EA achieving its objective would have been to allow the vessels to remain where they are until the planning authority has found a permanent mooring for them to move to.

The fact they haven’t means that the defendants now have nowhere to live.

What are riparian rights?

Landowners have the right to make ‘reasonable use’ of natural running bodies of water, such as rivers or streams, that flow through or over their properties. These rights are known as riparian rights.

These rights include the right to moor boats to the bank, and to place structures on the bank and bed of the watercourse. This is customary along the bank of the river Thames.

The riparian owner’s rights don’t necessarily depend on ownership of the bed directly under the water itself – it may simply arise through owning land or property that is connected to it.

Since the riverbank was unregistered land, the defendants wanted to exercise the rights of a riparian owner and moor their boats alongside their land as adverse possessors without trespassing.

The judgement

Following the hearing in October 2023, a judgement was returned in February 2024. His Honour Judge Simpkiss found that there was no defence based on riparian rights on the basis that effective ownership of the riverbank was ultimately irrelevant as the EA owned the riverbed. He also dismissed the public law arguments.

The outcome appears to be that anybody mooring a boat on the Thames between Sunbury and Cherry Orchard could be removed from their mooring unless they have an agreement with the EA.

PILC solicitor Keith Coughtrie said “It’s deeply concerning that the judge threw out every defence made by the people who have lived on their boats at this location for nearly 17 years. It seems as though the EA issued the proceedings against these residents so that no one can be found to have a better claim to the land than they do when they pursue their application to register this part of riverbank with HMLR. This judgement sets a worrying precedent that despite not having rights to the waterway, the EA can evict people on this basis.”

PILC works to to defend and promote the rights of all people to be able to pursue a nomadic way of life. There are around 300,000 Gypsies and Travellers in the United Kingdom, 100,000 of whom live in a caravan or other mobile structure, such as boat and van dwellers. It is also well documented that a disproportionate amount of planning applications by Gypsies and Travellers are rejected, whether that is to reside on their own land or for the development of other sites.

We provide legal advice and representation to Gypsies and Travellers who do not live in brick and mortar housing and seek safe and suitable living conditions, including bargees and van-dwellers.

Want to talk to us about a case? Contact Keith on keith.coughtrie@pilc.org.uk or on 07503084482.

26Mar 2024

Fight4Aylesbury Collective’s open letter to Southwark Council

26th March 2024|

Fight4Aylesbury have written and delivered an Open letter to the Leader and Cabinet members of Southwark Council. 

A central demand, that everyone on the Aylesbury agrees on, is that there should be NO CLOSED REPORTS ON AYLESBURY FUTURE PHASES.  They demand greater transparency from both Southwark Council and Notting Hill Genesis.

The letter was hand-delivered on the occasion of the meeting of the Housing, Community Safety and Community Engagement Scrutiny Commission on Thursday 21/3, and was also sent by email, to be put on the agenda of their next meeting (the date of which is yet to be confirmed). 

It is important, they believe, that these Councillors, the Leader Kieron Williams, and the Cabinet are aware of their key demands as soon as possible. 

Important decisions about the Aylesbury are in the process of being made, and all residents’ concerns and aspirations, they say, need to inform that process. 

Fight4Aylesbury says:  “Southwark Council should understand better why residents are so passionate about saving their precious Council homes and why so many believe that this IS a practical option.  We are fed up with copy-cat repetition of phrases from Councillors such as  “the original homes that were badly built” or that they are “no longer fit for purpose”.  These statements are lazy and, so far, unsubstantiated.  Untackled pest infestations and poor maintenance are not evidence that the buildings are structurally unsound.  We would like to see a proper, independent investigation of the viability of refurbishment, from structural, environmental and community perspectives, as well financial.”

The Fight4Aylesbury Campaign Group, along with their lawyers from PILC, organised a public meeting in February following the success of the legal challenge against the decision to amend the outline planning permission. They discussed what their Judicial Review win means for the estate, and what’s next. The key demands from this meeting have been summarised into this Open letter.  Southwark and NHG plans to build a 25 storey block of private homes on site Phase 2B would have broken the OPP height restrictions on new buildings.

An Open letter to Southwark Council

What is happening to the Aylesbury estate?

The first steps for the regeneration of the Aylesbury estate were taken in 1999 and its redevelopment is now 25 years old. Although a number of homes have been built, only a few of them retained traditional council rents with lifetime tenancies or social rent. Many tenants and leaseholders were displaced. Lives have been hugely disrupted. And while some residents have been fortunate enough to get new homes, most have had little benefit from the estate’s regeneration. Living conditions on the estate are deteriorating and too many Aylesbury residents are living in insecurity and discomfort, with painfully uncertain futures.

The future progress of the regeneration is also shrouded in uncertainty. After 25 years only Phase One of the four–‐phase regeneration is anywhere near completion. Southwark and its development partner Notting Hill Genesis have fallen foul of the law in their plans for Phase 2B. A long–‐promised report on the future phases has been delayed many times.

These delays and setbacks have gone unexplained. Southwark Council must now speak to Aylesbury residents and answer the question – what are your plans for the future of our estate? We demand open discussions, no closed reports. NOW is the time to speak to residents. And listen.

We believe that this is an opportunity for Southwark to consider a new direction: a transparent investigation of the option of refurbishment, to keep the remaining community together and to deal with new climate challenges.

We think that the best deal for residents and our environment is one that retains our current precious homes. Southwark Council should:

  • Invest in and improve the buildings we already have;
  • Insulate, retrofit and refurbish
  • Stop managed decline and undertake repairs
  • Give security of tenure to our temporary tenants
  • Stop social cleansing and demolition

Whatever plans are adopted, the Aylesbury will still remain home for many people for many years. A programme of repairs is needed for the whole estate now. Void properties should be brought back into the housing stock, not just used as temporary accommodation. Temporary tenants, many of whom have lived on the estate for years, should be given the security of permanent tenancies. Leaseholders have also been treated badly in the past and must now be given a fair deal. The green spaces, playgrounds and MUGAs we have need to be retained to support health and welfare of the residents.

Southwark Council pledged in 2018 to give the people of the borough ‘A Fairer Future…where all residents have the opportunity to fulfil their potential’. It is time for Southwark to make this a reality for the people of the Aylesbury.

Signed: The Fight4Aylesbury collective

14Mar 2024

A Government against the People

14th March 2024|

The Government today announced plans to re-define what the state considers extremism to be. Paul Heron Legal Director at PILC looks at these worrying developments.

Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

There is little doubt that the Government is in crisis. It is clear for everyone to see. They are not only running out of ideas – it is a Government that is deeply unpopular.

The inspiring demonstrations organised by the Palestine Solidarity campaign, Stop the War Coalition and others have laid bare Britain’s role in supporting the genocide in Gaza. This mass movement has delegitimised the UK Government position in relation to their opposition to a permanent ceasefire, and has exposed its role on the United Nations Security Council in voting to abstain during crucial votes.

The claims by Ministers that the regular mass peaceful demonstrations in support of Palestine are ‘hate marches’ have been found to be wanting. The demonstrations are peaceful and inclusive. Every month hundreds of thousands march together calling for peace and to stop the slaughter of Palestinians.

Yet despite this today the Communities Secretary Michael Gove announced a plan to ban individuals and groups who “undermine the UK’s system of liberal democracy” from public life. As part of this plan there is a new definition of extremism that will ban organisations from meetings and engagements with ministers, senior civil servants and from funding. The expectation is that local councils will be expected to fall in line.

According to Gove’s new definition, extremism consists of: “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to:

1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or

2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or

3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).”

Alongside the announcement today, Gove launched a new ‘Counter-Extremism Centre of Excellence’ which will be used to gather intelligence and identify extremist groups.

The new  definition of extremism is particularly broad. It will include anyone or any organisation that is perceived to ‘undermine’ UK interests. This will lead to a very broad brush of organisations that will be captured it. Today Gove named Cage, the Muslim Association of Britain and Mend, and the official list will published in a couple of weeks.

Cage issued a joint statement with Palestine Action, Black Lives Matter UK, Sisters Uncut, Netpol and other groups stating: “[Gove’s] announcement is a continuation of the decades-long strategy aimed at inciting and exploiting fears against Muslims to build an authoritarian and repressive infrastructure that suppresses any dissent that is not licensed by Whitehall.”

The Government is using this latest policy to fabricate enemies. Today’s fabricated enemies are Muslims, immigrants, and campaigners supporting Palestinian rights. The attempt in these Government proposals is to keep us in a perpetual state of fear, and these attempts (along with others) are designed to implicate entire communities as ‘enemies.’ Then, in the name of making us safer, the Government is attempting to repress dissent, legislate draconian laws, curtail freedom and use law as a means of social and economic control.

These proposals are not an attempt to defend democracy and freedom of speech. These proposals are made in the name of democracy, to stifle it.

Alongside our partners we will be looking at how these proposals can be challenged. 

1Mar 2024

Victory Blooms: Rochdale social housing tenants triumph in defending gardens threatened by controversial planning works

1st March 2024|

Image by David Crabtree

Image by David Crabtree

PILC have helped social tenants to retain their much-loved gardens and to bring Rochdale Borough Council ‘RBC’ and Rochdale Borough Housing ‘RBH’ to the table to discuss mitigation of disruption from controversial refurbishment plans. Plans included the removal of all garden fencing for 44 weeks.

Resident David Crabtree is a carer for his two disabled sons, one of whom suffers from severe mental health issues and takes solace in their meticulously kept garden.  David was concerned that the impact works would have on his sons and his garden  had simply not been considered by the council or housing association. His concerns were shared by many of his neighbours.

As Greater Manchester Tenants Union noted, residents were so upset about the lack of consideration which led to this planning decision that they were ready to chain themselves to their fences to stop them being removed whilst refurbishment works were undertaken. 

Residents were even more upset when plans were approved via a delegated decision (rather than at planning committee where they could have addressed the committee directly) and that one of the objection letters, signed by 4 residents, was treated as a single objection.

A Letter Before Claim was sent to the council and housing association, which argued there was:

  • A failure to comply with the Public Sector Equality Act Duty  – in relation to the lack of consideration of the impact of the proposed plans
  • An unlawful delegation of powers and failure to ensure procedural fairness
  • Irrationality in counting a group objection as a single objection and thus recording only 4 objections in total in the Officer Report.
  • Fettering of discretion to allow the planning committee to take this controversial planning decision.

Outcome

Both RBC and RBH agreed to proposed Alternative Dispute Resolution to avoid litigation, namely to:

  1. Agree the garden fencing would not be removed whilst refurbishment works take place; and
  2. Meet with the tenants before any work commences to discuss and agree mitigation measures to reduce the impact of disruption during refurbishment works.

In addition to the above, the tenants received an unreserved apology  about how these events were handled.

Tenant David states:

“Following an absence of communication from our social housing landlord and local Council regarding a dispute over improvement works to our homes and subsequent planning approval, a group of tenants approached the Public Interest Law Centre to step in and represent us in a legal case. As a result of mitigation and a number of resolution meetings, I am pleased to say that the communication between landlord and tenants has now been fully restored, and by working together with our landlord and Council we can now move forward with what’s important to our homes and within our community.”

20Feb 2024

Local community beat billion-dollar West Ham United FC to save their local footy club

20th February 2024|

Community’s legal letter stopped plans in their tracks, showing Redbridge Council that they won’t back down

The PILC team, along with over 600 members of Bealonians FC and their community are relieved to see that Redbridge Council have backed down on plans to hand over treasured playing fields to West Ham United FC.

Recently valued at over $1bn by Forbes, West Ham United FC wanted to take over the space for a training ground. Bealonians FC is a registered charity, and is a grassroots sports club for the local community, offering football and cricket facilities to a wide range of ages and abilities including youth and senior football teams. Oakfield Playing Fields is known legally as an “asset of community value” and is home to the much-loved local club Bealonians FC.

The community were understandably outraged when they were informed of the intention to lease to West Ham United FC in a Cabinet meeting in October last year.

Now, following the threat of legal proceedings, Redbridge Council has confirmed it won’t implement the plans as detailed in October’s cabinet meeting.

The decision is a huge relief – but it doesn’t mean the site will be protected in the long term. The council could decide to market it again, putting the site at risk once again.

But the council’s U-turn is huge testament to how powerful local communities are when facing the loss of community spaces like Oakfield Playing Fields. It sends a strong message that these spaces are fiercely protected by those that use them, and will not go without a fight.

Harriet Child, a lawyer at PILC who worked with the local community in writing their legal letter, said “We’re relieved to see this site remain a public asset for the borough. We hope this decision signals the start of the Council recognising its immense value to local residents and protecting it in the long run”.

At the Public Interest Law Centre, we work tirelessly with local communities in their fight to save community spaces. We work to protect these valuable spaces from being sold or leased for private gain.

If a space or place that is treasured by your local community is under threat and you want our support, please get in touch with Harriet Child on harriet.child@pilc.org.uk.

25Jan 2024

Keep public land in public hands

25th January 2024|

High Court grants permission for a Judicial Review against Spurs’ plans.

Background

Since 2021, a group of Enfield residents have been fighting to stop their council leasing over 50% of public green space to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and it’s ultra-wealthy owners.

With plans to expand their training grounds, the proposed development means that Enfield residents would lose access to land that has been in public hands for nearly a century. It would also require razing several acres of natural parkland to make way for training pitches and manicured gardens.

The legal case

The claimant, Sean Wilkinson, has been granted permission to bring Judicial Review proceedings in the High Court, starting on 6 February 2024.

Public space allows people to exercise, relax and gather to meet friends and family in the fresh air regardless of personal financial means. Whitewebbs Park has been in public trust for over a century, and is a richly biodiverse space. This kind of space is essential for mental and physical health; its provision can reduce health inequalities between wealthy and deprived communities.

We’re bringing the case on the following grounds:

  • The council cannot lawfully dispose of the park in the way proposed (to a private company for its own commercial purpose).
  • The disposal plans are not consistent with the “statutory purpose” of the land – which is to be held as open space land on trust for the public (a purpose for which it was acquired using public funds).
  • The council cannot use the funds it plans to generate from the sale in the way it proposes, and its decision is unlawfully influenced by this error.

How to support this case

A core part of PILCs work is to protect public land so that all people have access to this vital green, natural space – and keep public land in public hands.

Public land is not an asset to be bought or rented. PILC challenges the public bodies that are willing to sell off large swathes of public land in service of profit, not the community.

To ensure that our legal team can take this case through the full judicial review proceedings, we’re looking to raise £12,000 in less than two weeks. If you are able to support this case, you can do so here.

19Jan 2024

The UK government’s ban on an organisation that doesn’t exist has devastating impact on Tamil refugees

19th January 2024|

Background

On May 19th, 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) announced that it had silenced its guns. Since then, it has ceased its armed activities. Yet the UK government has refused to take this now non-existent organisation off the proscribed terrorism list not once but twice – and it’s having devastating consequences for Tamil people worldwide.

Impact on the Tamil community

Tamil people in the UK have been severely affected by the proscription of the LTTE simply because they share the ethnicity or the non-violent political aspiration of the right to self-determination of the Tamil people.

Keeping the LTTE on the proscribed list of organisations in the western world contributes to the subjugation of the Tamils in the form of torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and detention – all under the guise of “countering terrorism”. Tamils struggle to even fly their flags without being named terrorists.

The legal case

Now, PILC is bringing a case on behalf of members of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) to appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision to keep LTTE on the list of proscribed organisations. They’ve been prevented from displaying national symbols (e.g. flags) as they’re are often mistaken for LTTE symbols. This leads to questioning by the police and wrongful arrests of peaceful demonstrators.

Disproportionate interference by the Police has been raised in Parliament for over a decade and they have produced a wider chilling effect on community organising amongst Tamil people. We cannot let minority groups such as the TGTE be silenced.

PILC is bringing the case on the following grounds:

  1. The decision is unlawful as the LTTE is no longer an ‘organisation’ capable of being subject to proscription
  2. The decision is unlawful as there is insufficient evidence to form a reasonable belief that the LTTE is concerned in terrorism
  3. The Home Secretary’s exercise of her discretion to maintain proscription was irrational
  4. The decision is unlawful as it constitutes a disproportionate interference with our clients’ rights of Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly (under Article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

How to support this case

Protecting the Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly is a core part of PILC’s work. This fundamental pillar of a just and democratic society must be protected at all costs.

To ensure that our legal team has the funds it requires to put the best case forward to the Commission and overturn this unjust ban, we need to raise £10,000 by March. Find out more details of this case and how to support it here.

17Jan 2024

Victory in the High Court: Aylesbury estate residents win; developers told that their submissions “lacked coherence”

17th January 2024|

“This judgement should serve as a warning to developers”

Today, council tenant and campaigner Aysen Dennis has won her Judicial Review claim in the High Court against Southwark Council and the developer Notting Hill Genesis (NHG).

Aysen has been fighting against the demolition of the Aylesbury council estate and has been working with PILC lawyers Alex and Saskia as part of PILC’s gentrification project. She’s lived at Aylesbury for over 30 years.

Today is a win for Aysen and her community who seek accountability and justice from the developer NHG and Southwark Council as they work to demolish the Aylesbury estate.

She says that Southwark Council was allowing NHG “to do what they want through the back door.” She added “we demand social housing, not social cleansing.”

Developers so often assume that the residents who live in the homes they want to destroy aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing. They want unlimited power to shift and change plans as they please – but this ruling shows that this is not the case.

We’re hopeful that today’s ruling has far reaching consequences in favour of estate residents across the country who feel powerless to affect change on the land they call home. 

This judgement should serve as a warning to developers who disregard historical masterplans and the promises they make to communities in the process of gentrification.

The legal case

In 2015, planning permission was granted to demolish and rebuild the Aylesbury Estate. Within that planning permission is a masterplan formed in consultation with the community that sets out the parameters of the regeneration.

However, NHG made a ‘drop in’ application on the site, which went far beyond the original plans by increasing the height of all private tower blocks overlooking Burgess Park. They did this using a ‘s96A non-material amendment’ to add the word ‘severable’ to the description of the outline permission.

By approving the amendment to the outline permission, Southwark Council awarded the developer further, extensive power, that would make it much easier for them to ‘mix and match’ new planning permissions across the Estate which differ from the original masterplan that was formed in consultation with the community.

Southwark Council and NHG tried to argue that the Outline Permission was already ‘severable’ and that the amendment made under s.96A was only intended to confirm this explicitly in the original Outline Planning Permission.

How Aysen won

Aysen argued three things:

  1. that the Outline Permission was not severable
  2. that the amendment to make it severable cannot be treated as non-material
  3. that the purpose and effect of adding the word ‘severable’ was to change the rights granted by the Outline Permission – specially in this instance the ability to exceed parameters set by the outline permission, such as the maximum building heights.

The judge, Mr Justice Holgate, found that “With respect” Southwark Council and NHG’s submission to the High Court “lacked coherence.” 

He agreed with Aysen that the original permission was not severable, and therefore could not be amended through a s 96 non-material application. This decision was therefore quashed.

Putting power back to the community

This is an important judgement for housing campaigners across the country, as large estate redevelopments often unfold from Outline Planning Permissions over time – or ‘phased’ like this. This case scrutinises the method in which developers use ‘drop in’ applications to deviate from what was promised to residents.

You can read more about the background of the case and why the claim arose here.

Want to talk to us about a case? Contact us here.

Developers so often assume that the residents who live in the homes they want to destroy aren’t paying attention to what their doing. They want unlimited power to shift and change plans as they please. But PILC supports local residents and campaigns to shift the power away from privatisation, and put it back in the hands of the communities. Donate to support PILC’s work in the fight against gentrification.

19Dec 2023

Covid-19 Inquiry: Liz Davies KC delivers closing statement for Module 2

19th December 2023|

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Liz Davies KC, instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre, delivering a closing statement.

On 13 December 2023, Liz Davies KC instructed by PILC made oral closing submissions for Module 2 of the Covid Inquiry on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid.

We say that the rise in domestic abuse during the pandemic was as a direct result of the public health measures implemented and imposed by Government. We set out what the Government failed to do and what it could have done to make a significant different to survivors of domestic abuse who were stuck in unsafe homes. We said that there were four main failures:

  1. Failure to be prepared well in advance of lockdown;
  2. Failure to disseminate proper clear messaging;
  3. Failure to consider an exception to the regulations that would have allowed people to provide a safe place to those fleeing domestic abuse;
  4. A refusal to suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds condition leading to a triple threat of covid, domestic abuse and destitution; and
  5. A failure to learn lessons from the first lockdown when it came to he second and third lockdowns.

See press coverage in Open Democracy here

11Dec 2023

Covid-19 Inquiry: Liz Davies KC questions Boris Johnson

11th December 2023|

On 7 December 2023, Liz Davies KC, instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre, submitted questions to Boris Johnson on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid.

Liz Davies KC questioned Boris Johnson on two areas: the messaging around the stay at home regulations and the lessons learned from the first lockdown.

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Stay at home messaging

The first question Liz Davies KC put to Boris Johnson regarded the messaging around the stay at home regulations where domestic abuse was only mentioned as an exemption to leaving home after January 2021.

Boris Johnson replied: “I think that you’re making a very good point, and I think in retrospect we should have given consideration to mentioning that issue explicitly earlier.  That didn’t mean we were silent or inattentive to the problem.  We put money into helplines almost immediately, I think in April.  We set up the Ask for ANI scheme, I think there was — so people could go -under the rules people could go out to the chemist, for instance.”

Liz Davies KC then asked Boris Johnson if the failure to mention domestic abuse in the stay at home messaging was compounded by a phrase on 23 March 2020 saying, “That’s all, these are the only reasons you should leave your home”.

Boris Johnson replied: “I hope that people would have understood that to report a criminal offence was also a reason to leave your home, but clearly it was something we should have — we should have made explicit.”

Lessons learned

The second question Liz Davies KC asked Boris Johnson was on the lessons were learned from the first lockdown and implemented for the second and third lockdowns in order to protect women and girls from domestic abuse.

Boris Johnson replied: “In addition to the investment in the helplines, which I think, as I say, began almost immediately, and the Ask for ANI scheme […]”. Liz Davies KC informed Boris Johnson that the Ask for ANI scheme was introduced in February 2021, and he replied that the Domestic Violence Bill went through the Commons in March or April 2020.

Liz Davies KC then stated that the Domestic Violence Bill had “nothing to do with lockdown,” to which Boris Johnson replied: “Well, it was actually, I think, a useful tool against DV, giving new statutory powers against coercive behaviour of one kind or another, and other measures. We put money into independent — I think right from the beginning of the government, we put more money into independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers, and across Whitehall — so people you could ring up or people who could, who would help you address the appalling issues that you face.  But what we also did across Whitehall was to try to solve what in my view is still a chronic problem, which is the inability of the criminal justice system to deal with crimes of rape, domestic violence, sexual violence of all kinds, and to get enough prosecutions.”

Find the full transcript at: https://covid19.public-inquiry.uk/documents/transcript-of-module-2-public-hearing-on-07-december-2023/

6Dec 2023

Covid-19 Inquiry: Liz Davies KC questions Dominic Raab

6th December 2023|

On 29 November 2023, Liz Davies KC and Marina Sergides, instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre, submitted questions on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid.

Questions were put in areas relating to domestic abuse as a public health matter, key workers, equality impact assessments (EIA), and government messaging on domestic abuse during lockdown.

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Questions from Liz Davies KC to Dominic Raab MP

Equality Impact Assessments (EIA)

The first question Liz Davies KC asked Dominic Raab was about his opinion on equality impact assessments (EIA) and – in relation to a ‘deep dive’ meeting he chaired on 29 April which looked forward to the end of lockdown – if any consideration was given to the possibility of domestic abuse emerging if couples self-isolated for 14 days.

Dominic Raab replied: “I think it’s an important objective, of course, to see the disproportionate impact on members of our society, or specific communities, of measures we’re taking or indeed the pandemic as a whole.  Whether the EIAs discharge that effectively I think is a moot point.

“[…] We were certainly — I certainly remember reflected on the fact that the lockdowns had a varying effect on, if I can put it this way, family harmony. You had quite a few people, if I could say this, typically middle class families — and I heard a lot of this in my own constituency — for whom lockdown was an epiphany moment because they spent more time as a family.  Now, there were all sorts of challenges and hardships, of course, but there was something rather positive about that. I think there were also, we were very conscious, would be other communities and households in other parts of the country where the experience was that actually the combustible nature of what was going on in the home, whether it was because of mental health challenges or whether it was because of domestic tensions and domestic abuse, where that was very different. Quite whether an EIA would have picked that up and what would it have told us that we could have done about it, I think is another question. But I don’t remember, and forgive me, on that specific deep dive of 29 April quite what the EIA said, or indeed if it was conducted.”

Responding to Dominic Raab’s comment, Liz Davies KC replied: “I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply this, but domestic abuse happens in middle class families as well as non-middle class families, of course.”

Government messaging around lockdown

The second question Liz Davies KC asked regarded an address to the nation Dominic Raab made on 16 April about the extension of lockdown for three weeks. During the address – delivered while Raab was acting Prime Minister – he did not mention the “You Are Not Alone” campaign launched by then-Home Secretary Priti Patel five days earlier, nor inform domestic abuse survivors that they could leave home during lockdown.

Dominic Raab replied: “Inevitably, you have a very limited period of time because actually those press conferences were also supposed to be about taking questions, not just talking to the public, so inevitably we couldn’t contain every caveat to the headline advice; it just wasn’t manageable.  I thought the Home Secretary had really spelt it out very clearly, we felt we’d landed that message.  Of course you would always want to reinforce it, but there was probably a whole range of things where if I’d have gone down and itemised every element of the advice, we would have been there for a disproportionate period of time, and that wouldn’t have served the purpose of the press conference and landing the messages because I think people would have drifted off, frankly, and that was our experience if those became too unwieldy.  So it wasn’t — I think we did land that message and I think we continued it in our comms more generally, and it certainly — because it wasn’t in every press conference or indeed that particular one didn’t — I don’t think it’s fair to read into that a deprioritisation or it being a lower level of importance.

“I think with all of those groups that suffered disproportionately you can always look back and think, “Well, I wish I’d have done — said a bit more”, but in the end we only had a limited space within which to craft our message and deliver it, and that was true at a whole range of points.  You know, you inevitably have to editorialise your message.  But certainly we were very mindful throughout that there was this, if you like, simmering issue of domestic abuse and that lockdown was clearly making it worse, and we wanted to try and make sure that the lines of communication practically were there for anyone that needed that critical help.”

Questions from Marina Sergides to Professor Jenny Harries

Prioritised testing for frontline VAWG workers

The first question Marina Sergides put forward to Professor Jenny Harries – England’s deputy chief medical officer during the pandemic – was whether workers in refuge accommodation or domestic abuse charities were prioritised for testing.

Jenny Harries replied:  “I can’t answer that one directly.  I mean, there are two issues there about key workers and who was a frontline worker and then, sort of, the implementation of the testing programme.  There was quite a lot of consideration, I think, in NHS Test and Trace — again, I wasn’t there at the time — about where that risk lay and who needed to be tested.  Obviously, there were many different use cases and there was a certain flexibility whilst working with directors of public health that if they wished to — you know, if they could identify groups because it would, as you know, vary in different geographies that they could direct testing in those cases.  But I think that’s probably all I can say to help.”

Impacts of lockdown on domestic abuse

Marina Sergides’ second question to Jenny Harries asked what the government should have considered in relation to domestic abuse when deciding social isolation and/or lockdown measures, in the context of an example Sir Chris Whitty previously gave of people who had shielded before required then experienced loneliness and depression, resulting in clinical and public health problems.

Jenny Harries replied:  “I think I probably have answered the question because in that particular case, to my mind, it is foreseeable and we can imagine what’s going to happen and I think you will probably be representing people who experienced those increases in calls just beforehand.  And therefore I think some of the messaging was not as clear as it could have been to make sure that people understood that they could come out of isolation.  There clearly was a course out and I think it was considered within that, I’m not sure that if I was somebody frightened, you know, in a domestic abuse situation and about to go into lockdown, that I would perhaps have clocked that the message that says “for an emergency” actually applied to me.”

Find the full transcript at: https://covid19.public-inquiry.uk/documents/transcript-of-module-2-public-hearing-on-29-november-2023/