Administrative justice and the Parliament Square axis

This paper concerns the judicialisation of administrative justice and is prompted by a recent decision of the UK Supreme Court. The case arose in the context of housing, but for these purposes is relevant insofar as it raises critical constitutional questions about, among other things, the relationship between the Strasbourg Court, the domestic courts and administrative justice. A homeless refugee is offered accommodation by the local authority in the form of a flat with one round and one oblong window in the living room. She turns down the ‘final offer’ on the ground that the windows remind her of the prison in Iran where she was tortured. She claims that this particular flat will exacerbate the post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks and other conditions from which she suffers. The question goes to a statutory review by a housing officer, who rejects her argument. She has thereby rendered herself homeless and ended the local authority’s obligation to house her.

What is there in these facts to require the attention not only of the housing review officer, but also of one county court judge, three Court of Appeal judges and five Supreme Court justices in addition? According to the Supreme Court in Poshteh v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, these facts raised two significant questions: First and most important, was this a situation governed by the European Convention (ECHR) and had the domestic courts been correct in their earlier rulings that it was not? Secondly, had the reviewing officer applied the right test to the situation and had her reasoning been correct? In its answer to these two questions, the Supreme Court acted to limit the inroads that the ECHR has long threatened to make into administrative law and practice, aiming to limit the judicialisation of administrative justice. This paper considers and commends the Supreme Court’s reasoning, arguing that the decision is a promising instance of a “Parliament Square Axis” for reasonable interpretation of human rights law.

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