Public Law

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What is public law?

Public law is about the exercise of power by public authorities, such as local authorities or government departments like the Home Office. It is different from private law, which governs relationships between individuals and private companies.

If a decision made by a public body acting in a public capacity is unlawful, or if the decision making process is unfair, it can be challenged by using a complaints procedure, or by judicial review if there is no other way to challenge it.

What is a public body?

Public law controls public bodies acting in a public capacity. Sometimes it is obvious what is a public body, for example a local authority or a government department.

The following are all public bodies:

  • Government departments and agencies e.g. Department of Work and Pension, Home Office
  • local authorities including social services, housing departments and local education authorities
  • health authorities including hospitals and clinical commissioning groups
  • the police
  • prisons
  • courts, statutory tribunals, coroners’ courts
  • regulatory and supervisory bodies.

How can public law decisions affect you?

Most people are affected by public law decisions at some time in their lives. For example benefit claimants, health service users, the homeless, asylum seekers, people with disabilities, people with mental health problems, prisoners, those affected by planning decisions, school children and their parents.

If you have ever been to hospital, a Council Housing Office, Social Services, a Police Station or claimed benefits you are likely to have been affected by public law decisions. 

What are public law wrongs?

Public authorities have to act in accordance with public law principles. They must act lawfully, this means they must follow the law; they must not do things they do not have legal authority to do, or use their powers to do something improper.

Public Law bodies must act reasonably and they must follow fair procedures.  They also have a duty to promote equality under the Equality Act 2010. 

How can public law help you?

If you are affected by a decision made by a public body you may be able to challenge it. You may also be able to challenge a failure to make a decision, or a delay in making a decision, by a public body.

Different decisions can be challenged in different ways. If there is a right of appeal against the decision, you will usually have to follow the appeal procedure.

If there is no right of appeal, and no effective alternative remedy, you may be able to challenge the decision by judicial review.  This claim must be made within 3 months of the decision under challenge. 

There may be other ways that you can challenge decisions. Many public bodies have complaints procedures you can follow. There may be an ombudsman scheme you can complain to.

At RKB Law we can advise you on all aspects of a public law and judicial review claim.   For further information or to speak to one of our Public law and Judicial Review solicitors today please contact us on 01622 356 911 or fill in our enquiry form.

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