Beatty v Rent Tribunal

JurisdictionIreland
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeMr. Justice Geoghegan,MR JUSTICE FENNELLY,Mr Justice McCracken
Judgment Date21 October 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] IESC 66
Date21 October 2005
Docket Number[S.C. No. 290 of 2003]

[2005] IESC 66

THE SUPREME COURT

Denham J.

Hardiman J.

Geoghegan J.

Fennelly J.

McCracken J.

290/2003
BEATTY v RENT TRIBUNAL
BETWEEN/
MARK BEATTY AND WALTER BEATTY
Respondents/Applicants

and

THE RENT TRIBUNAL
Appellant/Respondent

and

FRANCIS McNALLY
Notice Party

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) (AMDT) ACT 1983

RENT RESTRICTIONS ACT 11960

FLETCHER v COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC WORKS IN IRELAND 2003 1 IR 465 2003 2 ILRM 94 2003 ELR 117

ARENSON v ARENSON 1975 3 ALL EN 901

SUTCLIFFE v THACKRAH 1974 1 ALL ER 859 1974 AC 727 1974 2 WLR 295

SIRROS v MOORE 1975 QB 118 1974 3 ALL ER 776

THREE RIVERS DISTRICT COUNCIL & ORS v BANK OF ENGLAND 2000 3 ALL ER 1

KENNEDY T/A GILES J KENNEDY & CO v LAW SOCIETY OF IRELAND & ORS UNREP SUPREME 21.4.2005

GLENCAR EXPLORATION PLC & ANDAMAN RESOURCES PLC v MAYO CO COUNCIL 2002 1 IR 84

BLAKE & ORS v AG 1982 IR 117

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) BILL 1981, IN RE 1983 IR 181

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) ACT 1982 S11

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) ACT 1982 S2(1)

HOUSING (RENT TRIBUNAL) REGS 1983 SI 222/1983

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) ACT 1982 S4

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) ACT 1982 S21

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) ACT 1982 S12(3)

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) ACT 1982 S13(1)

HOUSING (PRIVATE RENTED DWELLINGS) ACT 1982 S13(2)

SINEY v DUBLIN CORPORATION 1980 IR 400

WARD v MCMASTER 1988 IR 337 1989 ILRM 400

SUNDERLAND v LOUTH CO COUNCIL 1990 ILRM 658

DEIGHAN v IRELAND 1995 2 IR 56 1995 1 ILRM 88

O'CONNOR v CARROLL & BANKERS INNS LTD 1999 2 IR 160

PINE VALLEY DEVELOPMENTS LTD v MIN ENVIRONMENT 1987 IR 23 1987 ILRM 747

DESMOND & MCD MANAGEMENT SERVICES LTD v RIORDAN 2000 1 IR 505 2000 1 ILRM 502

PHILIPS v MEDICAL COUNCIL 1991 2 IR 115

DONOGHUE v STEVENSON 1932 AC 562

HOUSING ACT 1966 S39

GLENCAR EXPLORATIONS PLC v MAYO CO COUNCIL 1993 2 IR 237

CAPARO INDUSTRIES PLC v DICKMAN 1990 2 AC 605 1990 2 WLR 358 12/2/1990 TLR

MCELHINNEY v WILLIAMS 1995 3 IR 391 1996 ILRM 276

MCMULLEN v MCGINLEY (REPRESENTING CLANCY ESTATE) UNREP SUPREME 15.3.2005

BRESLIN v CORCORAN & MOTOR INSURERS BUREAU OF IRELAND (MIBI) 2003 2 IR 203 2003 2 ILRM 189

O'KEEFFE v BORD PLEANALA 1993 1 IR 39 1992 ILRM 237

KEEGAN, STATE v STARDUST VICTIMS COMPENSATION TRIBUNAL 1986 IR 642

JONES v DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT 1989 1 QB 1 1988 2 WLR 493

EVERETT v GRIFFITHS 1921 1 AC 631

HOUSING (RENTAL TRIBUNAL) REGS 1983 (AMDT) 1988 SI 140/1988 REG 6(6)

NEGLIGENCE

Duty of care

Immunity from suit - Misfeasance - Statutory tribunal - Damages - Judicial immunity - Entitlement of applicants to damages - Whether respondent liable to applicants in damages for manner of performance of statutory function - Whether duty of care owed to applicants when making decision - Whether claim for damages for negligence can be made against Rent Tribunal arising out of its determination - Arenson v Arenson [1977] AC 405 and Sirros v Moore [1975] QB 118 followed - Respondent's appeal allowed (290/2003 - SC - 21/10/2005) [2005] IESC 66 - Beatty v Rent Tribunal

Facts: The Rent Tribunal appealed against the judgment of O’Donovan J. in the High Court awarding damages to the respondents for loss suffered by them as a result of a decision of the Tribunal, which was found to be invalid by Finnegan J. The respondents, as landlords alleged that the Tribunal was negligent insofar as it followed unfair procedures and they suffered loss as a result.

Held by the Supreme Court (Denham, Hardiman, Geoghegan, Fennelly, McCracken JJ) in allowing the appeal:

1. That the landlord and tenant were the only parties with a direct interest in the outcome of the proceedings of the Rent Tribunal and therefore there was a relationship of proximity sufficient to satisfy the test of proximity necessary to constitute the tort of negligence.

2. That the duty of the Tribunal to determine a fair rent was owed, as a matter of public law, to both landlord and tenant. However it was not just and reasonable to impose liability on the Rent Tribunal in negligence in the circumstances of this case.

Geoghegan J. allowed the appeal on the basis that the Rent Tribunal, as a statutory body exercising statutory duties in the public interest, enjoyed immunity from an action in ordinary negligence.

Reporter: L.O’S.

1

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Geoghegan delivered 21st day of October 2005

2

The issue which arises in this appeal is whether a claim in damages for negligence may be made against the Rent Tribunal established under the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) (Amendment) Act, 1983 arising out of the tribunal's manner of determining a rent and a consequent monetary loss to the respondents on this appeal. The High Court (O'Donovan J.) made such an award and the Rent Tribunal which is the appellant on this appeal has appealed that decision.

3

Arising out of problems concerning the constitutionality of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1960 new statutory provisions relating to rent fixings in respect of private rented dwellings were enacted in the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Act, 1982. In the case of dwellings which had formerly been controlled dwellings under the Rent Restrictions Acts, the Act provided for applications to the District Court to have new rents fixed having regard to criteria set out in sections 12 and 13 of that Act. The 1983 Act cited above removed this rent fixing jurisdiction from the District Court and conferred it on a newly established statutory tribunal called "The Rent Tribunal". This Act provided for the Tribunal to have a seal and that the relevant Minister might appoint from his staff a person or persons to assist in the performance of the tribunal's functions and that expenses thereby incurred would be paid out of funds provided by the Oireachtas. There is no appeal from the determination of the Rent Tribunal except on a question of law which can go to the High Court.

4

As Fennelly J. has given a full account of the factual background to this appeal which I happily adopt, I will set it out in an abbreviated form. The respondents are the landlords and the notice party is the tenant of a controlled dwelling within the meaning of the Rent Restrictions Acts. An application had been brought to the Rent Tribunal to determine a rent in 1995 and the rent was fixed at £300 per month. Following on a new application brought in July 2000 the Rent Tribunal determined a new rent of £500 per month on the 12th December, 2000. That figure was less than had been proposed even by the tenants” valuer and as Fennelly J. points out was, therefore, quite surprising.

5

The respondents took the view that in arriving at its determination the Rent Tribunal had not adopted fair procedures and accordingly, pursuant to leave applied for judicial review in the form of an order of certiorari quashing the tribunal's determination. This application came on for hearing before Finnegan J. (as he then was) who granted the order sought on three grounds:

6

1. The presence of the tenant and the absence of the landlords during the tribunal's inspection of the premises gave rise to an apparent unfairness.

7

2. The respondents were not given adequate time to respond to a valuation report submitted by the notice party. Time limits had been laid down for the furnishing of reports but a report from the notice party was received outside of the time limit and shortly before the date scheduled for the decision of the tribunal and in circumstances where the tribunal refused to delay its decision to enable the respondents to have a proper opportunity to respond.

8

3. Absence of adequate reasons for the determination.

9

Following on the High Court order, the learned High Court judge permitted a claim for damages to be made which in due course came on for hearing before O'Donovan J. The High Court awarded damages based only on ordinary negligence.

10

There is a single and simple reason why I believe that the appeal should be allowed and the claim for damages dismissed. Even though the Rent Tribunal (the appellant) is a tribunal which essentially determines rent disputes as between private parties it is a statutory body exercising statutory duties in the public interest. In these circumstances, I am quite satisfied that provided it is purporting to act bona fide within its jurisdiction it enjoys an immunity from an action in ordinary negligence. (I will comment later on the issue of immunity in respect of misfeasance in public office). In this respect it is in no different position from a court whether such court be traditionally categorised as "superior" or "inferior". I agree, of course, with Fennelly J. who has pointed out in his judgment that the same conclusion can be arrived at by a different route. Fennelly J. prefers to avoid the concept of "immunity" in favour of the concept that a negligence action does not lie if, in all the circumstances, it would not be just and reasonable to impose a duty of care. However, the latter seems to me to be a concept that would apply to a wide number of situations (e.g. fear of asbestos disease cases such as in Fletcher v. Commissioners of Public Works) [2003] 1 IR 465) that have nothing to do with immunity of judges or public tribunals. While there is obviously an overlap, I think that judicial immunity is a free standing independent concept and should not be swallowed up by the wider concepts of the general law of negligence.

11

I am unable to accept the argument that this, being a statutory tribunal, there can be no "immunity" in the absence of a section in the Act providing for it. In my view, the immunity of a statutory tribunal arises at common law and if it is to be removed, the statute has to say so. In this...

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