Rowland v The Environment Agency: CA 19 Dec 2003

The claimant owned a house by the river Thames at Hedsor Water. Public rights of navigation existed over the Thames from time immemorial, and its management lay with the respondent. Landowners at Hedsor had sought to assert that that stretch was now private. She appealed an order declaring the continued public rights.
Held: The applicant had not established anything to say that public rights of navigation could be lost by disuse, and no agreement to the contrary. The right of the conservators to erect obstructions did not equate to a private right right. It was clear that for many years the officers of the Authority had acted on the basis that the public rights had been extinguished, and the consequent behaviour did create an expectation that the public rights of way had been extinguished, but that expectation could only be legitimate if the promise could be based in law. Unless the HRA had changed the situation, it could not. Mrs. Rowland’s expectation was a possession entitled to protection under Art. 1 unless the interference by the Defendant with that possession was justified and proportionate.
Peter Gibson LJ set out the principles for claiming legitimate expectation as against a public authority, saying: ‘The public law concept on which Mrs. Rowland relies is that of a legitimate expectation created by a public authority, the denial of which may amount to an abuse of power. Lord Lester accepted the judge’s summary of the general principles of English law on this subject as correct . .
By a representation (a term which embraces a regular practice and a course of dealing) a public body does not give rise to an estoppel but may create an expectation in another (‘the citizen’) from which it would be an abuse of power to resile: R v. East Sussex County Council ex parte Reprotech Pebsham Ltd [2002] 4 All ER 58. The principle of good administration prima facie requires adherence by public authorities to their promises. Whether it does so require must be determined in the light of all the circumstances. The public body can only be bound by acts and statements of its employees and agents if and to the extent that they had actual or ostensible authority to bind the public body by their acts and statements: South Bucks District Council v. Flanagan [2002] 1 WLR 2601 at 2607 para 18 per Keene LJ. The relevant representation must be unequivocal and lack any relevant qualification: see R v. Inland Revenue ex parte MFK Underwriting [1990] 1 WLR 1545. The citizen must place all his cards on the table, making full disclosure and his expectation must be objectively reasonable: R v. Secretary of State for Education ex parte Begbie [2000] 1 WLR 1118 (‘Begbie’) per Peter Gibson LJ at p.1124 and Laws LJ at p.1130. Where the expectation relates to matters of substantive law as to which both parties are ignorant or in error, it is relevant both to reasonableness and fairness that the citizen had access to legal advice had he wished to take it: see Henry Boot Homes Ltd v. Bassetlaw DC 28.11.02 CA per Keene LJ at para 58 (‘Boot’). The expectation may be substantive or procedural and the categories of legitimate expectation are not closed: Begbie. Once the claimant has established the legitimate expectation, he must show that it would be unfair of the public body to resile from giving effect to the legitimate expectation.’
Mance LJ said: ‘In R v Secretary of State for Education and Employment, ex p. Begbie . . Laws LJ commented . . that ‘abuse of power has become, or is fast becoming, the root concept which governs and conditions our general principles of public law’ and that ‘it informs all three categories of legitimate expectation case as they have been expounded by this court’ in Coughlan. Later . . he identified as the correct test whether an authority’s change of attitude ‘would be so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power’. He went on . . : ‘As it seems to me the first and third categories in the Coughlan case . . are not hermetically sealed. The facts of the case, viewed always in their proper statutory context, will steer the court to a more or less intrusive quality of review. In some cases a change of tack by a public authority, though unfair from the applicant’s stance, may involve questions of general policy affecting the public at large or a significant section of it (including interests not represented before the court); here the judges may well be in no position to adjudicate save at most on a bare Wednesbury basis, without themselves donning the garb of policy-maker, which they cannot wear . . In other cases the act or omission complained of may take place on a smaller stage, with far fewer players. Here . . lies the importance of the fact in the Coughlan case . . that few individuals were affected by the promise in question. The case’s facts may be discrete and limited, having no implications for an innominate class of person. There may be no wide-ranging issues of general policy, or none with multi-layered effects, upon whose merits the court is asked to embark. The court may be able to envisage clearly and with sufficient certainty what the full consequences will be of any order it makes. In such a case the court’s condemnation of what is done as an abuse of power, justifiable (or rather, falling to be relieved of its character as abusive) only if an overriding public interest is shown of which the court is the judge, offers no offence to the claims of democratic power. There will of course be a multitude of cases falling within these extremes, or sharing the characteristics of one or other. The more the decision challenged lies within what may inelegantly be called the macro-political field, the less intrusive will be the court’s supervision . . ‘

Lord Justice Mance Lord Justice May Lord Justice Peter Gibson
[2003] EWCA Civ 1885, Times 20-Jan-2004, Gazette 26-Feb-2004, [2004] 3 WLR 249, [2005] Ch 1
Human Rights Act 1998
England and Wales
CitedRegina v The Commissioners of the Thames and Isis 1837
In 1833 Lord Boston complained to the Commissioners about the construction of the Cut above Hedsor Water on the Thames. The Commissioners did not act on the complaint. Accordingly Lord Boston claimed compensation from the Commissioners for the loss . .
Appeal fromRowland v The Environment Agency ChD 19-Dec-2002
Public rights of Navigation have since time immemorial at common law existed over the Thames including (unless and until extinguished or ceasing to be exercisable) Hedsor Water. The claimant sought a declaration that rights of navigation over that . .
CitedLondon Borough of Harrow v Qazi HL 31-Jul-2003
The applicant had held a joint tenancy of the respondent. His partner gave notice and left, and the property was taken into possession. The claimant claimed restoration of his tenancy saying the order did not respect his right to a private life and . .
CitedAssicurazioni Generali Spa v Arab Insurance Group (BSC) CA 13-Nov-2002
Rehearing/Review – Little Difference on Appeal
The appellant asked the Court to reverse a decision on the facts reached in the lower court.
Held: The appeal failed (Majority decision). The court’s approach should be the same whether the case was dealt with as a rehearing or as a review. . .
CitedWills Trustees v Cairngorm Canoeing and Sailing School HL 1976
The public right of navigation (PRN) is a right to public use of the river. The river may be used by the public for purposes of exercise and recreation as well as transport and commerce. At common law PRN cannot be lost by lack of use over time. ‘A . .
CitedTodd v Adams and Chope (Trading as Trelawney Fishing Co) (The ‘Margaretha Maria’) CA 2002
Where the correctness of a finding of primary fact or of inference is in issue (on appeal), it cannot be a matter of simple discretion how an appellate court approaches the matter. Once the appellant has shown a real prospect (justifying permission . .
CitedCory v Bristow HL 1877
The owner of a vessel used for commercial purposes while fixed in position on a long-term basis over moorings on the riverbed could for rating purposes be treated as the occupier of those moorings and the part of the riverbed in which they were . .
CitedCouncil of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service HL 22-Nov-1984
Exercise of Prerogative Power is Reviewable
The House considered an executive decision made pursuant to powers conferred by a prerogative order. The Minister had ordered employees at GCHQ not to be members of trades unions.
Held: The exercise of a prerogative power of a public nature . .
CitedRegina v Commissioners of Inland Revenue, ex parte Unilever plc CA 1996
The Revenue had refused to exercise a discretion in favour of the taxpayer in the same form it had granted for over twenty years. The taxpayer complained that this was unfair.
Held: The new approach to late applications, brought in without any . .
CitedBeyeler v Italy ECHR 5-Jan-2000
The concept of ‘possessions’ in Art. 1 has an autonomous meaning which is not limited to ownership of physical goods and is independent from the formal classification in domestic law, and requires the examination of the question whether the . .
CitedPine Valley Developments Ltd And Others v Ireland ECHR 29-Nov-1991
ECHR Preliminary objection rejected (victim); Preliminary objection rejected (non-exhaustion); No violation of P1-1; No violation of Art. 14+P1-1; Violation of Art. 14+P1-1; No violation of Art. 13; Just . .
CitedRegina (Daly) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 23-May-2001
A prison policy requiring prisoners not to be present when their property was searched and their mail was examined was unlawful. The policy had been introduced after failures in search procedures where officers had been intimidated by the presence . .
CitedRegina v London Borough of Newham and Manik Bibi and Ataya Al-Nashed CA 26-Apr-2001
CS The housing authority had mistakenly thought that it was obliged to re-house the applicants under the Act with secure accommodation, and promised them accordingly.
Held: That promise had created a . .
CitedRegina v North and East Devon Health Authority ex parte Coughlan and Secretary of State for Health Intervenor and Royal College of Nursing Intervenor CA 16-Jul-1999
Consultation to be Early and Real Listening
The claimant was severely disabled as a result of a road traffic accident. She and others were placed in an NHS home for long term disabled people and assured that this would be their home for life. Then the health authority decided that they were . .
CitedRegina v Department of Education and Employment ex parte Begbie CA 20-Aug-1999
A statement made by a politician as to his intentions on a particular matter if elected could not create a legitimate expectation as regards the delivery of the promise after elected, even where the promise would directly affect individuals, and the . .
CitedRegina (Reprotech (Pebsham) Ltd) v East Sussex County Council Reprotech (Pebsham) Ltd v Same HL 28-Feb-2002
The respondent company had asserted that the local authority had made a determination of the issue of whether electricity could be generated on a waste treatment site without further planning permission. The council said that without a formal . .
CitedHenry Boot Homes Limited v Bassetlaw District Council CA 28-Nov-2002
The claimant asserted that the behaviour of the local authority gave rise to a legitimate expectation such as to allow them to commence works in breach of a planning condition.
Held: The circumstances under which a claimant might rely upon a . .
See alsoRowland v Environment Agency CA 22-Jan-2004
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Cited by:
See alsoRowland v Environment Agency CA 22-Jan-2004
. .
CitedJones, Regina (on the Application Of) v The Environment Agency Admn 13-Jul-2005
The Environment Agency sought to persuade the claimants that they must pay for licences for their moorings for craft on the Thames. The boat owners said that they had placed poles in the banks for many years, and that because the moorings were not . .
CitedBegum and others v Returning Officer for London Borough of Tower Hamlets CA 2-May-2006
Keith J had countermanded a forthcoming local election, and made an order under section 39(1) for a new election. The claimants had sought to stand but had not been allowed to do so, the returning officer having rejected their nomination papers. The . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Land, Human Rights

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.188903