Court of Appeal Upholds Coal Authority’s Licensing Decision as Fair

21 Apr 2008

The Court of Appeal gave judgment on Wednesday 16 April in an appeal brought by Abbey Mine Limited (“AML”), the disappointed applicant for a coal mining licence at the Margam site in South Wales.

Margam has large reserves of high quality coal, and once it is operational, will supply virtually all the coking grade coal mined underground in the United Kingdom. The Coal Authority awarded the licence to Corus, the steel producer, instead of to AML.

AML brought judicial review proceedings to challenge the Authority’s decision, alleging procedural unfairness. At first instance, Mrs Justice Dobbs rejected AML’s complaints. On appeal, the Court of Appeal has once again found for the Authority.

The Court of Appeal’s judgment, delivered by Lord Justice Laws, contains important guidance as to what constitutes a fair procedure in competitive licensing cases. The Court held that “in a competition case like this. fairness imposes two broad requirements: (1) that an applicant by told the substance of the decision-maker’s concerns about his own case, and (2) that each applicant be treated like every other: there should, to use the hackneyed phrase, be a level playing-field. the applicant is entitled to be told of the decision-maker’s concerns about his own case, but not the details of his rival’s case”.

Christopher Vajda QC and Josh Holmes acted for the Coal Authority, instructed by Nabarro.

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