The claimants took possession of a farmhouse property in September 2000, with the knowledge that a public footpath was located in the vicinity. After the claimants had discovered that the footpath ran across their land, they decided to fence and erect a pair of gates to secure their property. The claimants received advice, thereafter, that the changes they had made were satisfactory. Local residents and users to the path however, took objection, and engaged the defendant local authority to look into the matter. The authority indicated that the path had been unlawfully blocked by the claimants. In May 2003, a notice was served upon the claimants, requiring the gates and fencing to be removed. The claimants contended that the notice had been erroneously served and resisted action. A year later, the authority appointed an inspector to investigate the precise route of the path. The inspector held a non-statutory inquiry, and in accordance with his terms of reference, considered ‘all the evidence’, including a definitive map and definite statement on the path. The inspector recommended that ‘route one’, from the three options which had been identified, as being the correct route. Additional material known as ‘user evidence’ was then submitted to the authority. On the basis of that evidence and the inspector’s report, and without then having consulted the claimants, the authority’s county solicitor recommended that ‘route three’ was the correct route. The authority decided not to follow the inspector’s recommendation, but chose to accept the recommendation of the county solicitor. The claimants applied for judicial review of the authority’s decision.
Claim allowed. The decision making process had not been wholly in accordance with the principles of natural justice in that, although the authority thereafter had been been entitled to depart from the recommendations that were made by the inspector, the procedure that had been adopted by the authority following the receipt of additional material was contrary to the principles of natural justice. The claimants were entitled to notice from the authority that they had been minded to reject the inspector’s recommendation, and adopt the advice of the county solicitor, in light of the additional material. Alternatively, the case should have been referred back to the inspector before a decision was reached.