Hackney escapes civil claim

Chris Fogarty reports

Councils convicted of a criminal offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 are not liable for any further civil claims, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

The decision in favour of Hackney Council in London means other local government organisations have escaped facing a potential avalanche of civil claims seeking damages for statutory nuisances.

Tenants of a Hackney Council flat had complained of mould and condensation in their home in the mid-1980s. In 1989, the council pleaded guilty before magistrates to an offence under Part III of the 1936 Public Health Act (replaced by the Environmental Protection Act 1990) and a total of £1,900 compensation was awarded to the tenants.

In 1992, the tenants brought a successful civil action against the council and won an unspecified amount of damages for having suffered long-term ill health arising from their time in the damp council flat.

Hackney appealed and late last month the court found in favour of the council's counsel Richard Drabble QC's argument that the Act was a self-contained code and there were no suitable grounds for the creation of civil courses of action.

Drabble said that although the 1936 Act had been replaced by the Environmental Protection Act in 1990, it seemed the precedent would remain. He added: "If the decision had gone the other way it would have been very important."