This case concerned the Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission for the proposed redevelopment of the Shell Centre on the South Bank, London. After various other grounds had been dismissed in the High Court  EWHC 375, the issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the decision should be quashed on the grounds that the Inspector’s conduct at and before the Inquiry gave rise to a claim of apparent bias.
In rejecting the appeal, the Court of Appeal (Longmore, Davis and Sales LJJ) upheld the first instance decision of Collins J, who had dismissed the apparent bias ground, but also found that Collins J’s criticisms of the inspector had gone beyond that which was justified on the evidence before him.
The decision provides important guidance on the context in which the notional fair minded and informed observer would assess an Inspector’s conduct, including the “strong inquisitorial dimension” to the Inspector’s role; the need to manage efficiently the conduct of an inquiry within a limited time-frame (which “may require robust case management in the interests of all participants”); the Inspector’s right to expect and encourage short and focused answers in the course of cross examination of witnesses; the fact that the inquiry process provides an Inspector with relevant information through a range of media; and the expectation that the Inspector will have done a good deal of preparation before an inquiry commences and is entitled to seek to focus debate on particular issues. In this context, the Court of Appeal observed that it would be a rare case in which it is likely that robust inquiry management will be found to give an appearance of bias.
A copy of the judgment can be found here.