The respondent had been issued a stop notice dated 13 September 2003 requiring him to cease certain works that were being carried out on land that he owned. The stop notice provided that it would take effect on 22 September 2003.
On 23 September 2003, a planning enforcement officer visited the site. The planning officer claimed that he had seen work being carried out at the site and upon his arrival certain people left. The planning officer took photographs of static vehicles that were off the area covered by the stop notice and of one leaving site. He did not however take any photographs of work taking place. Nearby residents also claimed that work was being carried out on the day in question.
At a hearing to decide whether the respondent had failed to comply with the stop notice, the respondent claimed that on the morning in question he had been at Epsom servicing a vehicle. He claimed that he had complied with the stop notice and that all work had stopped on the 20 September before the stop notice had taken effect.
By virtue of section 187 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 the magistrates were obliged to consider whether the stop notice had been contravened by either the respondent himself or by him causing or permitting others to do so.
The magistrates decided that they could not rely on the evidence of the nearby residents as such evidence was in direct contradiction with the respondent’s independently corroborated evidence. The magistrates further noted that the planning officer had not taken photographs of work taking place nor did he make an effort to speak with anyone at the site that day. Accordingly the magistrates held that they could not be satisfied to the criminal standard that work had been carried out on the day in question.
The appellants appealed by way of case stated.
The issue was whether the magistrates were entitled, on the evidence before them, to come to the conclusions that they could not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence under the Town and Country Planning Act had been committed and/or whether they had failed to give adequate reasons for their decision.
The court held that in reading the case as a whole it was simply not possible to understand why the magistrates were able to reach the conclusion that no work had taken place on the relevant day.
Although the magistrates were not bound to accept the planning officer’s evidence they did not expressly reject it. The magistrates comments gave no more than a suggestion that he may have taken more photographs and/or spoken to someone at the site. It followed therefore that the magistrates had failed to give adequate reasons for their decision, and their decision was quashed and the matter remitted for reconsideration by a differently constituted bench.
*Full case details
R (on the application of Woking Borough Council) vs Patrick Keenan QBD, 6 May 2005
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This case is interesting because it reiterates the principle that reasons given by Justices must enable the parties to understand why a decision has been reached. In this particular case, by accepting the respondent’s evidence, the magistrates were impliedly rejecting the planning officer’s evidence. However, because they did not expressly state that the planning officer’s evidence was being rejected and did not give any reasons for such rejection it was not possible to understand why the decision was reached.