Stop Stansted Expansion comment on the failure of their bias challenge against Airports Commission in the High Court
High Court Judge Mrs Justice Patterson has issued her ruling on the challenge brought by SSE arising from the role played by Mr Geoff Muirhead as a Commissioner on the Airports Commission. She agreed it was right for him to step down from the Commission as soon as it became known that his former employer, MAG, the owners of Stansted Airport, would be submitting proposals for extra runways there. But she ruled against SSE in deciding that no previous harm could have been done by Mr Muirhead, in terms of bias, during his involvement with the Commission from 2.11.2012 until his resignation on 20.9.2013 – which happened only after SSE had instructed its lawyers to commence legal proceedings. She did say that it could not be regarded “as the most wise” for him to remain on the Commission for so long. SSE still has some concerns about the integrity of the process going forward. SSE say that because there is so much at stake and the position is still not entirely satisfactory, they will be considering the ruling and whether aspects need to be taken to the Court of Appeal.
Airports Commission – High Court Challenge
2.12.2013 (Stop Stansted Expansion)
High Court Judge Mrs Justice Patterson has today (2 December 2013) issued her ruling on the challenge brought by Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) arising from the role played by Mr Geoff Muirhead as a Commissioner on the Airports Commission.
Mrs Justice Patterson agreed it was right for Mr Muirhead to step down from the Commission as soon as it became known that his former employer, the Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the owners of Stansted Airport, would be submitting proposals for extra runways at Stansted.
Nevertheless, Mrs Justice Patterson ruled against SSE in deciding that no previous harm could have been done by Mr Muirhead, in terms of bias, during his involvement with the Commission from 2 November 2012 until his resignation on 20 September 2013 – which happened only after SSE had instructed its lawyers to commence legal proceedings.
Notably, Mrs Justice Patterson remarked in her ruling that neither the actions of Mr Muirhead, in remaining as a Commissioner until September 2013, nor those of the Commission in retaining him until then, could be regarded “as the most wise”.
Mrs Justice Patterson was also critical of the Commission for not being more transparent about Mr Muirhead’s consultancy arrangements. The point she was referring to was that neither Geoff Muirhead nor the Commission had made any formal declaration that he was still being paid £150,000 a year by MAG when he was appointed to the Commission.
Although SSE has achieved its principal objective in pursuing this legal challenge, namely the removal of Mr Muirhead from the Commission, SSE still has some concerns about the integrity of the process going forward. Some of SSE’s concerns were addressed in the course of the legal proceedings as a result of confidential information disclosed by the Commission in witness statements and exhibits, including the minutes of internal meetings.
Despite its public commitment to be open and transparent, the Airports Commission considers that it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore, much of the information released to SSE as a result of its legal proceedings could not otherwise have been obtained.
One (non-confidential) point that has become clear during these proceedings is the pivotal role played by Department for Transport civil servants on secondment to the Airports Commission. This is because Commissioners only work on Commission business for two days a month, one of which days is set aside for its monthly meeting. The Chairman is expected to work four or five days per month. All the Commissioners work pro bono.
Because there is so much at stake, and because the position is still not entirely satisfactory, SSE needs time to give proper consideration to the Judge’s (60-page) ruling and to discuss it in detail with its legal advisors before deciding whether there are aspects of the judgment that need to be taken to the Court of Appeal. In the meantime, SSE will be making no further comment.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Further background is contained in earlier SSE press releases on this subject, dated 19 August 2013, 20 September 2013, 8 October 2013, 13 October 2013 and 18 November 2013, all of which are available at http://www.stopstanstedexpansion.com/media.html.
The comment from the Airports Commission was this very bland statement:
“The members of the Airports Commission welcome this decision. The Commission has sought throughout the past twelve months to be fair, open, transparent and robust in how it takes forward its work, including the development of its sift criteria. It is pleased that the Court has recognised this and its work will continue unaffected by this action.”
They could be thought to be fortunate that the decision went their way … whether it was a political, rather than a legal decision, we “couldn’t possibly comment” (to quote Frances Urquart, in the House of Cards).
Earlier – background to this case:
SSE challenges Airports Commission at the High Court on “apparent bias” due to involvement of Geoff Muirhead
November 22, 2013 Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has launched a High Court bid to force the Airports Commission to revise its work on the future of aviation expansion in the UK. SSE’s case, asking that the Airports Commission should re-determine its so-called “sift criteria” for assessing growth options, was heard by Mrs Justice Patterson. SSE claims that the sift criteria process was infected by apparent bias because Geoff Muirhead, then still a member of the Commission, had worked as Chief Executive for – and continued to work for – MAG. The sift criteria will ultimately guide the Commission in its final decision on where any new runways in the UK should be built. SSE’s barrister, Paul Stinchcombe QC, argued that Mr Muirhead’s resignation was too late to save the sift criteria proceedings and that his involvement had tainted and was continuing to taint the activities and decisions of the commission by reason of apparent bias. The DfT said “there is no evidence whatsoever of bias and the Airports Commission is content that decisions taken to date are robust.” The Commission said its processes to date were “appropriate and robust”. Mrs Justice Patterson said she will make a decision on the matter in writing at a later date. Click here to view full story…
Stop Stansted Expansion challenge to Airports Commission on apparent bias going to High Court on Friday 22nd Nov
Date added: November 18, 2013
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) will go to the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday 22 November to present its case that a key element of the work carried out by the Airports Commission has been tainted by apparent bias and needs to be done afresh. SSE’s legal challenge stems from the involvement of Geoff Muirhead, who was appointed to the Airports Commission. He had retired as MAG’s chief executive in October 2010 after 22 years with the Group but he was then immediately appointed as their highly paid ambassador, a role he continued to fulfil even after he was appointed to the Commission. Mr Muirhead resigned from the Commission on 20 September 2013, shortly after SSE began its legal challenge. He was directly involved in determining the Commission’s ‘sift criteria’ for deciding the most suitable airport expansion options and SSE believes that these are clearly skewed to favour expansion at Stansted. SSE will be asking the High Court to order the Commission to re-determine the ‘sift criteria’ and to delay the publication of any short-list of options until the sift criteria have been re-determined. Click here to view full story…
Stop Stansted Expansion lodged papers at High Court alleging Airports Commission criteria “infected by apparent bias” due to Geoff Muirhead
October 15, 2013 The Stop Stansted Expansion group (SSE) have lodged papers at the Royal Courts of Justice alleging that the criteria being applied to decide on possible options for new runway sites in England are “infected by apparent bias”. SSE want High Court judges to order the Government-appointed Airports Commission to delay the publication of any shortlist of options until the “sift criteria” have been re-determined. They argue that there was apparent bias because Geoff Muirhead, a recently-resigned member of the Commission, had a conflict of interest. Mr Muirhead is a former chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the owners of Stansted since February. He stepped down from the Commission three weeks ago after SSE warned Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin they would take legal action if he stayed. “For almost a year, Mr Muirhead was allowed to play a pivotal role on the Commission.” The High Court is being asked to order the Commission “to re-visit certain key decisions made by the Commission during the time that Mr Muirhead was involved”. Brian Ross, from SSE, said: “With proposals on the table from MAG to make Stansted the world’s busiest airport with four runways handling up to 160 million passengers a year, there is far too much at stake to allow the issue of apparent bias to go unchallenged.” Click here to view full story…
Stop Stansted Expansion says of the Airports Commission: A tainted process – a dubious conclusion
October 9, 2013 Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) is disappointed that the Airports Commission has formed the preliminary view that extra runway capacity is needed in the south east of England. In his speech on 7th October 2013, the chairman of the Airports Commission, Sir Howard Davies said that his Commission had not been persuaded by the arguments against expansion. In SSE’s view, the arguments for more runway capacity in the south east are dangerously weak and they will be taking up Sir Howard’s invitation to comment on his preliminary conclusions. SSE believes the UK, as a whole, already has more than enough runway capacity to meet the DfT forecasts to 2050, and well beyond. Regarding the recent resignation of Geoff Muirhead from the Commission, due to ties with MAG, SSE said they are mounting a legal challenge on bias – due to Mr Muirhead’s influence – in formulating the “sift criteria” and there will be more information on that next week. Click here to view full story…