LAW REPORTS : Grant policy was unlawful

Regina v Warwickshire County Council, Ex parte Williams Queen's Bench Division (Mr Justice Schiemann). 14 February 1995. A local authority is entitled to have policy to make no discretionary education grants except in exceptional circumstances.
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Mr Justice Schiemann dismissed an application by Simon David Williams for judicial review of the council's decision not to make an award under the Education Act 1962 to assist him to study on the legal practice course at the University of Sheffield.

The applicant had received a mandatory award from the council under section 1 of the 1962 Act to assist him to study for a law degree and obtained a class 2.1 degree. The legal practice course provided vocational training for aspiring solicitors before starting a training contract with a firm of solicitors. The course fee was £4,800 and living expenses were estimated to be £3,400. The applicant applied for a discretionary grant under section 2, stating that working as a criminal lawyer with a low remuneration, he would be unable to pay back the loan required to finance the course.

The council's general policy for discretionary grants was not to make discretionary awards but to consider all cases individually to determine whether exceptional circumstances existed under its published criteria, such as where other sources of funding were not available and cases of people with disabilities or with health or personal difficulties. It decided that the applicant's circumstances were not exceptional.

David Pannick QC and Paul Diamond (Irwin Mitchell) for the applicant; James Goudie QC and Charles Bear (County Solicitor) for the council. MR JUSTICE SCHIEMANN said that the council might not lawfully decide to bestow no discretionary awards at all. There was nothing inherently improbable about Parliament legislating that local authorities should be free to decide, each according to its own local sense of priorities, how much to spend on discretionary awards, including a freedom to decide to spend very little indeed. Parliament had left it to local authorities to decide to whom to distribute public bounty and there was nothing irrational in generally excluding from potential recipients those who had access to alternative sources of funds.

Ying Hui Tan, Barrister