Birmingham City Council v Oakley: HL 29 Nov 2000

When considering if premises fell within the section, and were ‘in such a state as to be prejudicial to health’, the court must consider some feature of the premises which was in itself prejudicial. An arrangement of rooms which was unsatisfactory and might be considered insanitary did not fall within the provision. The risk of cross infection because the water closet was placed next to the kitchen, and wash basin was in the bathroom on the other side, could not constitute a state of the premises. A broad reading of the words might include the premises. Nevertheless, considering the history of the legislation a narrow interpretation was correct. The section was directed to the presence in the house of some feature in itself prejudicial to health as a source of infection, disease, or illness. The difficulty here was not in the rooms in themselves rather but than their condition, and was outside the purpose of the section, and not a statutory nuisance.
Lord Hoffmann said: ‘My Lords, on the surface, this does not look like a very momentous case. The question is whether Mr and Mrs Oakley’s landlord should have provided them with a basin in the wc. The statute which they say made it necessary to install one is ambiguous. The language is capable of bearing such a construction. On the other hand, it is very unlikely that this was what Parliament intended. So the courts have a choice. If they say that Mr and Mrs Oakley should have had a basin, landlords of old houses and flats all over the country will have to instal them. Local authorities and housing trusts will have to incur very considerable expense. Under the surface, therefore, the case raises a question of great constitutional importance. When it comes to the expenditure of large sums of public and private money, who should make the decision? If the statute is clear, then of course Parliament has already made the decision and the courts merely enforce it. But when the statute is doubtful, should judges decide? Or should they leave the decision to democratically elected councillors or members of Parliament?’ and ‘when a statute employs a concept which may change in content with advancing knowledge, technology or social standards, it should be interpreted as it would be currently understood. The content may change but the concept remains the same. The meaning of the statutory language remains unaltered. So the concept of a vehicle has the same meaning today as it did in 1800, even though it includes methods of conveyance which would not have been imagined by a legislator of those days. The same is true of social standards. The concept of cruelty is the same today as it was when the Bill of Rights 1688 forbade the infliction of ‘cruel and unusual punishments’. But changes in social standards mean that punishments which would not have been regarded as cruel in 1688 will be so regarded today.’
Lord Slynn of Hadley Lord Steyn Lord Hoffmann Lord Clyde Lord Millett
Gazette 15-Dec-2000, Times 30-Nov-2000, [2000] UKHL 59, [2001] 1 All ER 385, [2000] 3 WLR 1936, [2001] 1 AC 617
House of Lords, Bailii
Environmental Protection Act 1990 77 79(1)(a)
England and Wales
CitedSalford City Council v McNally HL 1976
The House considered the interaction of the 1936 and 1957 Acts as to the distinction between the questions of injury to health and fitness for human habitation: ‘It was not a defence to establish that the house, the subject of the complaint, was . .
Appeal fromOakley v Birmingham City Council QBD 8-Jan-1999
The justices had concluded that the layout itself of premises was so unhygienic as to be ‘in a state prejudicial to health.’ The small toilets without a wash basin and next to the kitchen created a risk of cross-infection, and were a statutory . .

Cited by:
CitedRegina (Smeaton) v Secretary of State for Health and Others Admn 18-Apr-2002
The claimant challenged the Order as regards the prescription of the morning-after pill, asserting that the pill would cause miscarriages, and that therefore the use would be an offence under the 1861 Act.
Held: ‘SPUC’s case is that any . .
CitedVella v London Borough of Lambeth Admn 14-Nov-2005
The claimant sought judicial review of the decision to serve an abatement notice in respect of premises where the normal noise incidents of living were heard in neighbouring flats, which notices were to be abated by noise insulation.
Held: The . .
CitedOwens v Owens CA 24-Mar-2017
Unreasonable Behaviour must reach criteria
W appealed against the judge’s refusal to grant a decree of divorce. He found that the marriage had broken down irretrievably, but did not find that H had behaved iin such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with H.
Held: . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 03 January 2021; Ref: scu.159093