15 October 2018, by Connor Johnston
Watkins v Aged Merchant Seamen’s Homes and Historic Property Restoration Limited  EWHC 2410 (Admin), 17 April 2018
The Appellant, LW, sought to bring a complaint in the Sunderland Magistrates’ Court against the Respondents under the Environmental Health Act 1990, contending that the property where she resided posed a statutory nuisance contrary to s79 of that Act.
At the time the complaint was laid, on LW’s case, she was a tenant of the property. Whereas on the Respondent’s case she was a trespasser: according to the Respondent she had initially been a licensee but her licence had been properly terminated by service of a notice to quit.
Subsequently possession proceedings were instituted by the Respondents. A possession order was made at first instance but LW remained in occupation.
LW’s complaint then came before the Magistrates’ Court. The Magistrates dismissed the complaint without hearing evidence, on the footing that LW did not have standing to bring a prosecution as she was not a person ‘aggrieved by the existence of a statutory nuisance’ for the purposes of s82(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Their reasoning was that ‘because [LW] has no right to remain on the premises she would not be able to prove that the nuisance that she is complaining about exists as of now.’
LW appealed to the High Court by way of case stated. By the time the matter came before the High Court, LW had been refused permission to appeal against the possession order and was seeking judicial review of that decision.
Kerr J allowed LW’s appeal against the dismissal of the EPA complaint. The lawfulness (or otherwise) of LW’s occupation was the subject of ongoing litigation and was, in any event, not determinative of whether she had the standing to bring an EPA complaint:
‘Whether a complainant is a ‘person aggrieved’ for the purposes of section 82(1) of the 1990 Act is always a question of fact and degree. It is normally, although not necessarily in every case, sufficient for a complainant to be a ‘person aggrieved’ if the complainant is in actual occupation, whether or not lawful occupation. If the legality of the occupation is a matter of bona fide dispute at the time the complaint is made, then it is likely, though not axiomatic, that the complainant will be found to be a person aggrieved.’
This question was to be answered with reference to the facts as they were at the time the complaint was laid, and not the time the complaint was heard.
The decision of the Magistrates’ was set aside and the matter was remitted to be heard by a differently constituted court.
The judgment is available here: Watkins v Aged Merchant Seamen’s Homes  EWHC 2410 (Admin)