Court of Appeal rules on local authorities’ power to make standing orders in relation to voting

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R (Spitalfields Historic Building Trust) v London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Old Truman Brewery Ltd [2023] EWCA Civ 917.

A planning application by Old Truman Brewery Ltd was initially considered by the Development Committee in a meeting in April 2021 but deferred. When the application was returned to the Committee for determination in September 2021, the Committee applied provisions in the Council’s Constitution which prevented Committee members not present when the Committee first discussed the application from voting at the deferred meeting (the “Deferred Meeting Voting Rule”). The Committee resolved to grant permission by 2-1.

The Claimant applied to quash the planning permission, arguing that the Deferred Meeting Voting Rule was ultra vires the power of the local authority as it removed an elected councillor’s statutory right to vote at a committee meeting.

The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and, in doing so, provided guidance on the scope of local authorities’ power to make Standing Orders, in this case related to voting. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal found that the power to impose the Deferred Meeting Voting Rule was contained within the Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12 para 42. This permits the making of standing orders by local authorities “for the regulation of their proceedings and business”. Sir Keith Lindblom, giving the lead judgment, considered that this language was broad in scope and was apt to cover “not…merely…the making of rules to govern its procedure but [also] the substantive work of that committee and how it goes about that work” (para 50). Consequently, para 42 of Schedule 12 enables local authorities “[to] restrict…the entitlement of councillors to vote in specified circumstances, including the circumstances here” (para 59). It was, nonetheless, important that the purpose of the Deferred Meeting Voting Rule “was not arbitrary, unequal or undemocratic, but went to consistency and fairness in the conduct of the committee's process of decision-making” (para 66).

The judgment may be accessed here.

Timothy Corner KC and Yaaser Vanderman appeared for Old Truman Brewery Ltd, the Interested Party.

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