Judgment on inspector's neutrality beggars belief

As two of the parties who opposed the application to redevelop the Shell Centre on London's South Bank and took part in the inquiry, we read Claire Fallows' Legal Viewpoint on the Court of Appeal's judgment on the conduct of the inspector (see related articles) with dismay and disbelief.

She states that the case serves as a reminder to all those participating in inquiries, including third parties, that they need to be prepared to adhere to inquiry rules and timetables. Yet the applicants were able to run considerably over their time when presenting and cross-examining evidence. The inspector did not intervene or pass comment on these serious infractions, but objectors were consistently cut off the moment they reached their time estimate.

At the request of the developer's legal team, the inspector dispensed with the Inquiries Procedure Rules requiring a statement of case to be submitted within six weeks of the appeal being lodged. As a result, objectors were unable to see key evidence on affordable housing until two days before the inquiry. When they requested a short adjournment to consider this, they were refused.

In contrast, the objectors met every deadline, including the request by the inspector to submit a response to the late evidence from the developer on the second day of the inquiry. They did so without the huge resources of the other side. In the event, the inspector refused to accept the evidence at 2.30pm that afternoon because it was not stapled. Rather than wait for it to be stapled, he left.

This behaviour led Mr Justice Collins, in the earlier High Court case, to find the inspector guilty of "judicial misconduct" and to say no reasonable or fair-minded person could conclude that he had behaved as expected. But the judge did not find that the inspector appeared to be biased against the opposition.

The case made to the Court of Appeal was that the judge's findings were inconsistent with that conclusion. To square this circle, the court found that the inspector's conduct was appropriate, fair and in line with norms of behaviour. This vast difference between the findings of the Court of Appeal and the High Court is beyond our comprehension.

Fallows is right to say this judgment will give inspectors guidance on what the courts find to be acceptable inquiry management. But this is not something that can give us comfort.

George Turner, claimant, and Richard Tamplin, planning inspector (retired).


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