Supreme Court upholds approval by Scottish Ministers of the Fife Structure Plan
24 April 2013
Uprichard v Scottish Ministers and Another  UKSC 21
The Supreme Court issued its judgment today in the appeal by Miss Uprichard against the approval in May 2009 by the Scottish Ministers of the Fife Structure Plan. The appeal was, in essence, against the adequacy of the reasons given by the Scottish Ministers for not making modifications to the Plan, and thereby exclude St Andrews as a strategic land allocation.
Lord Reed, giving the judgment, emphasises (once again) that “In considering the adequacy of the reasons given for a decision, it is necessary to take account of a number of matters, including the nature of the decision in question, the context in which it has been made, the purpose for which the reasons are provided and the context in which they are given.” (para 44) The context, in this appeal, was approval of a structure plan concerned with policy and general proposals, rather than more detailed matters. There was no requirement for the Scottish Ministers to justify the policies and proposals because that justification had already been provided by Fife Council, as it was required to do under the then applicable provisions of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 and relevant Regulations. Provided reasons were “proper, adequate and intelligible, and dealt with the substantive points raised” (articulating the familiar “test” at para 47) short reasons might suffice.
Lord Reed also pointed out that “It is ... important to maintain a sense of proportion when considering the duty to give reasons, and not to impose on decision-makers a burden which is unreasonable having regard to the purpose intended to be served.” (para 48)
So, while the reasons complained of might have been more explicit they did provide an intelligible explanation, especially to the well-informed reader such as the appellant, why the Ministers were not persuaded by her objections.
The case is of interest for two reasons. Firstly, as noted above it reminds us of the requirement to address the adequacy of reasons in their proper context. Secondly, the Supreme Court provides a salutary warning in its postscript that the appeal did not raise any point of general public importance, and was not an appropriate use of the time of that court (paras 58-63). It may be that the postscript is perhaps an indication of growing disquiet on the part of the Supreme Court that there is, as a general rule, no requirement in Scotland to seek leave to appeal to it. It is also of note that the postscript was written notwithstanding the fact that the appellant sought, at an earlier stage, a protective expenses order capping her liability to expenses. The PEO was opposed by the Scottish Ministers and Fife Council on the grounds, inter alia, that the appeal did not raise an important point of principle or public interest. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court granted the appellant a PEO. It is clear that the grant of a PEO will not absolve counsel (including solicitor advocates with rights of audience in the Supreme Court) of their responsibilities when certifying an appeal as reasonable (that is, does it raise a point of general public importance).
Ruth Crawford QC and Alastair Duncan QC represented the Scottish Ministers.
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