The courts should not impose a general obligation on administrative authorities to give reasons for their decisions where Parliament had chosen not to do so unless exceptional circumstances justified the interference of the court.
The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the applicant, Moriam Grillo, from Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC's dismissal of her application for judicial review of the council's decisions that accommodation offered to the applicant was suitable and it had discharged its duty to her under the Housing Act 1985.
The applicant, who suffered from arthritis, was unintentionally homeless and in priority need. The council offered her a flat on the seventh floor which she did not consider suitable because the lift to that floor was not working and she would have to go up or down 14 steps with her baby and pram. The council, which operated a voluntary appeals procedure about the suitability of accommodation, considered her objections which were supported by medical reports. The council's medical adviser considered that the accommodation was suitable given her medical needs. The council informed her that the accommodation was suitable and it had discharged its duty to provide accommodation.
She applied for judicial review of the council's decisions on the grounds that the offer was unreasonable and that the council had failed to give reasons for its decision that the flat was suitable. The council's head of housing needs deposed that the lack of lift was temporary and there was an acute shortage of accommodation. Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, sitting as a deputy Queen's Bench judge, decided that the council was under a duty to give reasons but that, since the council's decision could not be said to be unreasonable and the applicant now knew the council's reasons, no relief should be granted.
James Bowen (Oliver Fisher & Co) for the applicant; Anthony Dinkin QC and Simon Bird (Council Solicitor) for the council.
Lord Justice Neill said that the council had to strike a balance between the applicant's needs and difficulties, serious though they were, and the needs and difficulties of other families on the council's housing waiting list. It was for the council to make an assessment between competing claims for housing. That task had been entrusted to the local housing authorities by Parliament and the court should be very slow to interfere with that process except in the clearest case. On the facts, it was impossible to say that the council acted unreasonably or reached a conclusion no reasonable authority could have reached.
Turning to whether there was a duty to give reasons, his Lordship did not agree with the judge's conclusion that there was a general duty to give reasons for decisions "in every aspect of the homeless persons legislation". There might come a time when English law did impose a general obligation on administrative authorities to give reasons for their decisions. But there was no such requirement at present.
Such a duty might be implied in appropriate circumstances which would include the nature of the adjudicating process and the facts of the case. In the present case, the procedure for appeals was voluntary and instituted by the council. The council's decisions were in line with its general policy and involved a difficult balancing exercise. It would be wrong to impose on housing authorities any general legal duty to give reasons for their finding in a particular case that the accommodation offered was suitable.
The position might be different where an individual decision was prima facie "aberrant" and might require explanation. In other cases an authority might wish to give reasons as part of a sensible and sensitive policy in this important field. But the courts should be careful not to impose legal duties on housing authorities where Parliament had chosen not to do so unless the exceptional facts of a particular case justified the interference of the court. There was no general or legal duty on the council to give reasons for the rejection of the applicant's appeal.
Lord Justice Hirst and Lord Justice Roch agreed.
Ying Hui Tan, Barrister