Hero Ledger

Local authorities

We work extensively for local authorities and public sector bodies across Scotland.

Read on for examples of our work for local authorities.

Aberdeen City Council and Zurich Municipal

Ledingham Chalmers successfully acted on behalf of Aberdeen City Council through Zurich Municipal.

In the case of Munro v Aberdeen City Council, the pursuer claimed damages from her employer for injuries sustained when she slipped in a car park at work.

We attended the hearing at the Court of Session and damages were agreed at £150,000, although no liability was established.

The case was based on a breach of absolute duty under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and Regulation 5 (1) to maintain the workplace in an efficient state, working order and in good repair.

It was held that Regulation 5 (1) did not apply to “transient hazards”.

South Lanarkshire Council

In the case of South Lanarkshire Council v Coface SA, we were instructed by the local authority to pursue litigation against the insurance bond provider: seeking recovery of payment under a performance bond totalling £4.5 million.

This action, associated with planning permission for an opencast mine at Mainshill, was one of a number that arose from the liquidation of the Scottish Coal Company in 2013. The council issued a demand letter in May 2013 seeking payment of the maximum amount of £4,499,410.32.

We attended the hearing at the Commercial Court, and the judgement was in favour of the local authority.

The defender argued the council did not follow correct procedures in pursuing payment, specifically the notice was defective and that a two stage procedure was required under the bond with an initial notice given by the council and a second demand notice then required.

They also argued that the notice issued by the council had not been validly signed.

The defender appealed to the Inner House, where the council was successful once again.

An unsuccessful attempt was made to appeal to the Supreme Court. The action has been remitted back to the Outer House for further consideration of an “authority to sign” issue.

Highland Council and Zurich Municipal

Ledingham Chalmers successfully acted on behalf of Highland Council through insurance company Zurich Municipal.

In the case of Ronald Disberry vs Highland Council, one set of proceedings was raised against two separate accidents: public and employer liability.

The employer liability claim involved an injury sustained while lifting a heavy drain cover.

The public liability claim was for a trip on a defective kerbstone and exacerbation of previous injury.  The result was a pre-litigation admission of liability in relation to employer liability claim, which was withdrawn following comprehensive investigations.

The claim was then abandoned.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Zurich Municipal

We acted for Zurich Municipal on behalf of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) in this public liability claim, which – if unsuccessful – would have had far-reaching consequences for local authorities making public service policy decisions.

In MacDonald v Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, the claimant raised a court action against the local authority after tripping on a pavement.

The claimant’s position was that he had tripped because the street lighting being turned off during certain hours of the night.  There are no other reported decisions in which a local authority had been sued for damages due to a failure to provide street lighting.

The case proceeded to a four day proof at the Court of Session.  The claimant was unsuccessful and the local authority was awarded their expenses for defending the action.  

This court agreed a local authority has a discretion to decide how and where their statutory duties are implemented: reinforcing the stance taken in earlier cases that the correct forum to challenge a policy is by judicial review rather than in a civil claim for damages.

Take a look at the media links on this case:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-33157190
https://stv.tv/news/highlands-islands/1330343-michael-macdonald-fell-and-blamed-council-for-turning-off-street-lights/

North Lanarkshire Council

Ledingham Chalmers successfully acted for North Lanarkshire Council in an appeal challenging Scottish ministers’ decision to grant planning permission for a railfreight terminal in greenbelt land in the authority’s area.

In October 2013, Peter D Stirling Ltd and the Trustees of the I D Meiklam Trust, applied to North Lanarkshire Council for planning permission for the expansion of Mossend railhead, which included additional rail sidings and the development of a freight terminal.

In September 2014, the local planning authority refused planning permission, and the applicants then appealed to ministers.

Scottish ministers did not support the appointed reporter’s recommendation to refuse planning permission in principle, and in a decision letter in August 2015, they upheld the appeal and granted permission.

The council appealed to the Court of Session against this decision under section 239 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.

The Inner House of the Court of Session ruled that the ministers failed to give “proper, adequate and intelligible reasons” for overturning a reporter’s recommendation.

Quashing the ministers’ decision, the court observed that ministers had largely ignored a number of serious concerns raised by the reporter, including the damage to the green belt and the adverse impact on nearby residential developments.

East Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire

We successfully acted for two local authorities as respondents in an application by the liquidators of The Scottish Coal Company Limited (SCC) to the Court of Session concerning land and statutory licences.

In this case, the local authorities had exposure to very large restoration costs estimated at £73million.

SCC had operated opencast mines principally in the East Ayrshire Council and South Lanarkshire Council areas, which had been subject to statutory licences issued by SEPA, to minimise water pollution.

The liquidators argued that they were entitled to disclaim licences: compliance being too onerous, and would further deplete available funds.

They also sought directions that they were entitled to abandon and render ownerless land on which these mines were situated.

The litigation was handled with extreme urgency: all parties wished an authoritative decision from the court to determine how the liquidators were to use diminishing resources.

The respondents opposed the orders sought by the liquidators with the issues in the case including the law of land ownership, insolvency law, environmental law, European law and whether the “CAR” Regulations were within legislative competence.

An initial decision in favour of the liquidators was appealed by SEPA, the local authorities and the Lord Advocate, in a very short timescale with the Appeal Hearing taking place during the Court recess in September 2013.

The Inner House reversed the decision of the Outer House judge, and decided that the liquidators did not have the powers they sought.

This case involved very intensive work in a short timescale and liaising originally with four separate clients. The local authorities recovered their expenses on an enhanced basis.

Linda Tinson

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