Thoburn v Sunderland City Council [2002]

English Constitutional Law

Thoburn v Sunderland City Council [2002]
‘The Greengrocer’s Shop’ by Terrick Williams

In a collective hearing the facts surrounding a national transition between imperial and metric measurements for the purposes of trade, gave rise to claims of unlawful application and subsequent challenge within the High Court as below:

Thoburn v Sunderland City Council

In this matter a greengrocer was accused of trading without licensed weighing scales under s.11(2) of the Weights and Measures Act 1985, while it was also alleged that despite repeated warnings to calibrate his scales in line with the legal requirements, the defendant had continued to operate the machines until their seizure by the local authority, and so losing his case in the Divisional Court the defendant later applied for referral to the High Court in order to further discuss the legalities of both imperial and metric measurements.

Hunt v Hackney London Borough Council 

On this occasion another fruit and vegetable trader was accused of a number of offences under s.4 of the Prices Act 1974 and s.28(1) of the Weights and Measures Act 1985 after commercial standards officers made discreet purchases revealing average product weight losses of twenty percent in favour of the defendant. 

Charged in the first instance, the defendant challenged the validity of the legislation and also sought the opinion of the High Court on grounds that he contended the applicability of the 1974 Act and the unlawfulness of displaying goods under the imperial weights system.

Harman and another v Cornwall County Council

This matter involved a market trader and fishmonger, who were both accused of selling their produce using imperial units of cost and thereby violating art.5 of the Price Marking Order 1999, as found under the Prices Act 1974 and sch.1 of the Weights and Measures Act 1985 as amended by The Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994 (SI 1994/1851). 

Here it was alleged that the two defendants had also prevented their attending local authority representative from removing the imperial price stickers when attempting to obtain evidence of their acts, and so having admitted liability the judge was referred to the outcome of Thoburn and raised the question as to the intention that both imperial and metric systems were to continue to run in parallel to one another, and whether the trading standards officers were acting beyond their powers when attempting to obtain pricing stickers from traders despite no suggestion of dishonesty by those accused.

Collins v Sutton London Borough Council

In a slightly different circumstance the appellant had argued that the terms of the renewal of his trading licence had been unlawfully amended by the issuing council, and so applied for a summons under s.30(1)(a) of the London Local Authorities Act 1990 while claiming that under the Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994, Units of Measurement Regulations 1994 and  The Weights and Measures (Metrication Amendments) Regulations 2001 (SI 2001/85) the local authority had instructed the appellant that he must display and charge for his produce under the metric weights system and that such a request constituted a breach of statutory powers and a violation of art.10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (Freedom of expression). 

To clarify, s.1(1) of the Weights and Measures Act 1963 provided that both the metric and imperial system of measurements were permitted equal presence within the United Kingdom until the creation of the European Communities Act 1972  and the introduction of Directive 80/181/EEC in 1979, after which chapter 1 of Directive 89/617/EEC cited that the metre and the kilogram were to become the single legal measurements of both length and mass, however chapter IV provided that certain goods sold loose in bulk were  allowed to be measured in pounds and ounces until 31 December 1999. 

In the following two years The Units of Measurements Regulations 2001 (SI 2001/55) provided that imperial measures (while unlawful as primary indicators for sale) were still permitted as secondary indicators until 1 January 2010, while contrastingly the Price Marking Order 1999 required traders to indicate unit prices in metric measures, yet anything to the contrary was a criminal offence under para.5 of sch.2 of the Prices Act 1974.

When brought before the High Court the four appellants relied upon a contention that the Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994, Units of Measurement Regulations 1994, Weights and Measures (Metrication Amendments) Regulations 1994 and the Price Marking Order 1999 were all unlawful and thus void under the principle of ‘implied repeal’, which is a process applied when Parliament enacts successive statutes containing inconsistent terms, and where the former is repealed by the latter in order to avoid future binding and confusion of effect, while it was also argued that the 1985 Act had repealed s.2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 in order to prevent future subordinate legislation, as had been used to replace the imperial system with the metric measurement system. 

Having considered the appellants’ somewhat unorthodox line of argument the Court dismissed the appeals on grounds that while observation of European Community law remained first and foremost to the function of the sovereign, there was nothing in the European Communities Act 1972 that allowed any outside jurisdiction to compromise the supremacy of Parliament, and that the executive measures of the 1972 Act were not subject to repeal by implication but through express and specific decisions, before reminding the parties that:

“Parliament cannot bind its successors, and that is a requirement of legislative sovereignty.”

Viamex Agrar Handels GmbH v Hauptzollamt Hamburg-Jonas [2008]

European Law

Viamex Agrar Handels GmbH v Hauptzollamt Hamburg-Jonas [2008]
‘Cross Town Traffic’ by Debbie Beukema

Proportionality and the transport of live animals for sale beyond the borders of the EC  underpin a joint request for a preliminary ruling under art.234 EC, when on this occasion two claims were brought before the Finanzgericht (Fiscal Court) Hamburg by livestock exporters refused export refunds on grounds that the manner in which they were transported breached Community law. 

In the first claim it was found that while art.1 of Regulation 615/98/EC determines the criteria in which a business can claim export cost refunds, it was applied in conjunction with art.3(1) of Directive 91/628/EEC, which outlined animal travel-time limitations and further governance of their physical wellbeing through nutrition and hydration. 

Upon submission of their paperwork the Hauptzollamt Kiel (Customs Office) discovered that contrary to the prescribed rest periods set out under art.48(5) of Chapter VII of the Annexe to Directive 91/628/EEC the animals had been given insufficient treatment to meet the terms set, while the claimants contested they had been acting under instruction of the official veterinarian at the outset of the journey.

In the second claim it was found that while advanced reimbursement of export costs had been granted prior to the animals exportation, the subsequent paperwork revealed how the latter half of the drive had exceeded the fourteen-hour threshold found in the same Annexe of Directive 91/628/EEC and thereby rendered them void of any refund and the Customs Office seeking recovery of payment with interest.

When presented with the material facts the Finanzgericht asked the European Court of Justice:

1. Did the power of Regulation 615/98/EC enable jurisdiction over the terms of Directive 91/628/EEC?

2. If so, was it tantamount to a violation of the principle of proportionality inasmuch as the terms of a Directive must override any subsidiary limitations (i.e. refusal of export costs in lieu of a breach)?

Having examined the case history behind both concerns it was agreed by the Court that while Regulation 615/98/EC ran parallel to the Directive, its purpose was purely animal protection and the enforcement of Member State conformity, while it was also agreed that this caveat served legal certainty and so complimented the Directive’s objectives.

In relation to the matter of Community law ‘proportionality’ it was held that while the terms of Regulation 615/98/EC conferred a right to deny export cost refunds, it was executed with the express intention that national courts and legislature applied discretion when determining a claimant’s right to recover costs where no animal had been harmed, thus the Court urged the parties to remember that:

“[W]hen there is a choice between several appropriate measures, recourse must be had to the least onerous, and the disadvantages caused must not be disproportionate to the aims pursued.”

Van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie de Belastingen [1963]

European Law

Van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie de Belastingen [1963]
‘Dutch Windmills’ by Eugene Louis Boudin

When a Dutch importer of ureaformaldehyde fell victim to domestically manipulated customs tariffs, the question of both ‘direct effect’ and the individual right to challenge an abuse of EU Treaties became subject to a preliminary ruling under art.177 EC. 

Because of the supranational nature of the case it was first believed inapplicable when challenges to increased (or recategorised) tax rates were put into effect by national statutes, however the argument made was that at the time of the abuse the original Treaty taxation of the affected product was set at just three percent, and so when domestic reclassification set to increase the rate to eight percent the claimant challenged the adjustment by citing art.12 of the Treaty of Rome, which explains that:

“Member States shall refrain from intro­ducing between themselves any new customs duties or imports or exports or any charges having equivalent effect and from increasing those which they already apply in their trade with each other.”

While noting how in addition to the terms of art.12, art.95 EC states that:

“A Member State shall not impose, directly or indirectly, on the products of other Member States any internal charges of any kind in excess of those applied directly or indirectly to like domestic products.”

During the preliminary ruling hearing the European Court of Justice noted that if the protective principles of Community law were to remain excluded from violations of Member States it would defeat their very purpose, thus it was held that the inherent meaning and purpose of art.12 was to afford unequivocal rights to individuals, who when taking issue with such matters, would do so in the knowledge that they were protected by the national courts.

In closing it was held by the Court that all Member States would thereon refrain from increasing levies and customs duties conflicting with those put forward in the original Treaty of Rome, and that because the recategorisation of that specific tariff was now found to be illegal, the matter was referred back to the national courts in order to establish how best to reclassify the products, while the Court reminded the parties that:

“[A]ccording to the spirit, the general scheme and wording of the Treaty, Article 12 must be interpreted as providing direct effects and creating individual rights which national courts must protect.”

Simmenthal SpA v Italian Minister of Finance [1978]

European Law

Simmenthal SpA v Italian Minister of Finance [1978]
‘White Cow’ by Nic Dartnell

This brief yet pivotal case turned upon the unfair application of import fees regardless of existing Community law enabling the free movement of goods between Member States, when under guidance of art.32 of the Italian consolidated health laws, a Monza-based meat supplier was subjected to inspection fees for a beef consignment purchased in France despite operating within the framework of Community law. 

Having waited almost three years, the supplier sought action against the Italian government on grounds that it had acted beyond the limits of its Member State obligations, and so in the first instance the local court (Pretura di Susa) sought a preliminary ruling in the European Court of Justice under art.177 EC, whereupon it was held by the Court that importation charges levied against its citizens amounted to little more than quantitive restrictions within the scope of art.30 EC and were therefore illegal and repayable with interest.

In response the Amministrazione Delle Finanze Dello Stato (Finance Administration) appealed the judgment while citing incompatibility with Italian national law (no.1239/70), a challenge that resulted in the issue of ‘direct effect’ and the reluctance of Member States or their Constitutional courts to enforce Community laws when national laws obstructed the blanket protections afforded individual citizens. 

At the time of discussion the only options available to the judiciary were the immediate repeal of the relevant legislation or declaration of incompatibility by the Constitutional Court, and while the latter approach doubtless favoured the Italian government, it was later held by the European Court of Justice that the ‘principle of the precedence of Community law’ must be held in the highest regard, therefore in order for that doctrine to continue it was paramount that the lower courts were to be given powers to enforce Community law regardless of any jurisdictional contradictions presented, while further reminding the parties that:

“[D]irectly applicable Community provisions must, notwithstanding any internal rule or practice whatsoever of the Member States, have full, complete and uniform effect in their legal systems in order to protect subjective legal rights created in favour of individuals…”

Marleasing SA v La Comercial Internacional de Alimentación SA [1990]

European Law

Marleasing SA v La Comercial Internacional de Alimentación SA [1990]
‘Sunset Over Sagrada Familia’ by Ana Maria Edulescu

The composition and function of incorporated companies and the fraudulent and deceptive manner in which their assets are contained, becomes central to a contention between founders and creditors when nullity is sought before the national court.

When creditor and claimant (Marleasing SA) discovered that one of the three founders of La Comercial Internacional de Alimentación SA had used the firm to avoid third party recovery of assets, it took action against them in order to expose the company as an illegally created organisation as defined under arts.1261 and 1275 of the Spanish Civil Code.

In response the defendant founder sought the protection of art.11 of Directive 68/151/EEC (also known as the ‘First Directive’), which included an exhaustive list of qualifying conditions for company nullity, yet none of which included the grounds relied upon by the claimant, and so when debated by the Juzgado de Primera Instancia e Instrucción it was agreed that as transposition of the Directive had not been undertaken, the issue remained unsolved without reference to the European Court of Justice under art.177 EC, and so on this occasion the court asked:

1. Were the relevant terms contained in art.11(2) of Directive 68/151/EEC enforceable between individuals despite a failure to adopt them into national Spanish law?

After observing the disparities between existing domestic statute and the meaning of the Directive, the Court explained that no terms of a Directive could be used between individuals under Community law, however a failure to transpose a Directive could result in individual action against the Member State where clarity and specificity of the Directive was shown, on grounds that it remained the Member State’s obligation to align the principles of the Directive against existing statute in order that the Directive’s effect superceded domestic laws.

Going further still, the Court also held that in relation to the protection of nullity under art.11(2)(b) of Directive 68/151/EEC nullity may be provided for where the objects of the company are unlawful or contrary to public policy, or where the number of founding members is less than two, and so in conclusion the Court finally outlined how art.12 nullity entailed dissolution and thereby failed to affect the validity of the company or its dealings despite the presence of unlawful operation or intent, therefore it was down to the discretion of the national courts to determine how best to meet the needs of both the claimant and the defendant, while observing the meaning and effect of Directive 68/151/EEC, before clarifying to the parties that:

“[O]bligation on the part of the national courts to interpret their national law in conformity with a Directive, which has been reaffirmed on several occasions, does not mean that a provision in a Directive has direct effect in any way as between individuals.”

Courage Ltd v Crehan [2001]

European Law

Courage Ltd v Crehan
‘In the Brewery in Munich, 1892’ by Philip de Laszlo

Under English law the courts refuse to endorse a claim for damages when the claimant was a party to a contract borne from illegal principles, while this is echoed in equity under the maxim ‘he who comes to equity must come with clean hands’, and so reminds those considering such arrangements that they do so without the aid of the judiciary.

However in this matter the claimant was a party to a publican agreement drawn up through the merger of a large brewery and owners of a number of public houses across the United Kingdom, while as part of this agreement the claimant brewery contracted to supply beer to existing tenants (publicans) under a non-negotiable tariff purportedly designed to protect the interests and profits of those purchasing, and yet after the tenant had somehow amassed a debt of around £15,000 the brewery sought recovery through the courts.

Having previously discovered that the brewery was supplying the same beers for lower prices to non-contracted third parties, it was then counter-claimed that the agreement demonstrated a breach of art.85 EC (formerly art.81 EC) therefore damages were owed and no payment for previously provided beer was due.

After the case reached the Court of Appeal it was decided that due to the conflict between national and Community law a preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice under art.234 EC needed to confirm: 

1. Whether art.85 EC allowed a party to a prohibited agreement to claim damages?

2. Whether a party can claim when relying upon their own adherence to the agreement?

3. Whether a national law preventing recovery under prohibited agreements remained consistent with Community law?

4. Where deemed incompatible which situations allowed national law to apply?

Having evaluated the aims of national law and the claim’s validity it was agreed that while those contracting in the distortion of fair competition are themselves contributors to their own demise, there are certain scenarios demonstrating an inequality of bargaining power and thus grounds for reconsideration. 

Here the Court noted how in this instance the tenant was subjected to the terms of the agreement with little to no room for bargain, and so while it was agreed that the terms of art.85 EC precluded claims of that nature, it did so on the proviso that the claimant was proportionately liable for any market distortion, while it was also clear that where no such arrangement existed, the effects of art.85 EC (which provided for direct effect and application between individuals) were sufficient enough to allow for a claim despite  any objections raised under English law, while reminding the parties that:

“[C]ommunity law precludes a rule of national law which prevents a party subject to a clause in a contract which infringes Article 81 EC from recovering damages for the loss suffered by it on the sole ground that it is a party to that contract.”

Faccini Dori v Recreb Srl [1994]

European Law

Faccini v Recreb Srl
‘Snake Oil Salesman’ by Morgan Weistling

Private contracts between individuals are often overlooked in terms of actual rights, therefore when an Italian consumer entered into an agreement to purchase an English language course while visiting a railway terminal, the vendor looked to enforce the contract when notified that her order was to be cancelled.

Relying upon Doorstep Selling Directive 85/577/EEC the applicant later issued proceedings against the vendor and contended to the Giudice Concilliatore (Judge-Concillaitor) that arts.1(1), 2 and 5 conferred protective measures allowing for rescindable notice within a period of seven days between consumers and private companies, which on this occasion had been undertaken through written instruction to the contracting vendor.

Although Directive 85/577/EEC had been in force for a number of years the Italian government had failed to transpose it within the allotted time, therefore no domestic legislation existed in support of this specific issue, while it was acknowledged that a failure to adopt Directives in the prescribed period resulted in a loss of profit to the Member State when defending against ‘direct effect’ claims by their citizens.

However in this instance the terms of the Directive were both clear and precise, yet  related to dealings between individuals and so not subject to the benefit of protection unless transposed under the guidance of Community law and within the adoption window, which presented the national court with a dilemma inasmuch as they were unable to determine exactly what rights the claimant had when seeking cancellation of the contract, and if consideration was ultimately due to the vendor as per the agreement.

For this reason the court sought a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice under art.177 EC, while asking:

1. Were the terms of the Directive clear and precise enough to provide direct effect?

2. Despite a failure to adopt the measures in accordance with the Treaty, could the claimant rely upon them to enforce her individual right to cancel?

Having examined the arguments around Directive powers and the horizontal effect between parties, it was agreed that for reasons of legal certainty future consideration must be given to broaden the scope of those entitlements when applying them to private and not public matters, yet it was still held that although the terms of the Directive served horizontal dealings it was not possible for the claimant to rely upon them when seeking to terminate her agreement with the vendor.

However the Court held that in light of the fact that the Italian government had failed to adopt the Directive and in the absence of relevant domestic legislation, it was now possible for the national courts to transpose the effects of Directive 85/577/EEC in order that a remedy could be provided in favour of the consumer, while reminding the parties that:

“Where damage has been suffered and that damage is due to a breach by the State of its obligation, it is for the national court to uphold the right of aggrieved consumers to obtain reparation in accordance with national law on liability.”

Ahmad v United Kingdom (1982)

English Constitutional Law

Ahmad v United Kingdom
Image: ‘Mosque Muslim Art Painting’ by Richa Maheshwari

While paving the way for a number of similar ‘religious obligations’ versus ‘convention rights’ cases, this protracted legal discourse reveals a number of indiscretions, that in many respects, served to influence legislative and educational policy in the United Kingdom, and illustrate how laws evolve through the integration of cultural norms and progressive state cohabitation.

After working as a supply teacher within the mainstream schools arena for a considerable number of years, the Islamic applicant took issue with the government, upon grounds that his need (or at least doctrinal requirement) to attend a mosque on Friday afternoons was being denied by statute; and that subsequent operational policy created the violation of a number of constitutional rights afforded to all citizens of the United Kingdom.

Citing art.9(1) of the ECHR (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and art.14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicant protested that s.30 of the Education Act 1994 stood in immediate conflict with his need to manifest his religious beliefs every Friday between the hours of 1.30pm to 2.15pm. Having been employed by a number of London Borough schools prior to his decision to resign rather than reduce his working hours, the applicant had been given verbal allowances by one school, and shown strict opposition by another, which bore an inconsistent position of unwillingness to accommodate a religious need, which until recently, had never been expressed nor discussed at the time of his original appointment.

When it was submitted that the repeated failure of a Muslim man to attend a mosque (subject to relative distances) would likely result in a beheading in a country such as Saudi Arabia, the applicant expected that the same principles would apply under  domestic jurisdiction, and that those grounds, along with previous (albeit unofficial) allowances were sufficient enough to warrant time taken from his contractual duties, despite any inconvenience to teaching  staff, pupils or the school as a whole.

After failing to find those arguments upheld in the domestic courts, the matter wound up before the European Commission for Human Rights, where it was unanimously decided that the terms of the Convention were constructed in such as fashion as to allow interpretation and consideration of all religions and beliefs, not just those of the applicant; and yet when willingly accepting a position of employment that brings with it a set of express and implied terms, the accepting individual takes ownership of how that agreement might impinge upon their religious requirements or obligations of faith, and must therefore act accordingly, thus the Commission dismissed the application, while holding that:

“[E]ven a person at liberty may, in the exercise of his freedom to manifest his religion, have to take into account his particular professional or contractual position.”