R v Somerset CC, ex p. Dixon [1998] Env LR 111

Key point

  • Sedley J rejected Schiemann J’s narrow approach to public law standing in Rose Theatre and endorsed a strong version of public interest or representative standing in public law
  • More specifically, he held a person need not have greater interest than any other person to have standing and an agglomeration of individuals can have greater interest and a single individual


  • Mr. Dixon, a local resident and parish councillor, challenged the decision of the Somerset County Council to grant planning permission to a company to extend its limestone mining operations
  • The Council argued that C had no sufficient interest as he was not a landowner and had no personal right or interest threatened by the development

Held (High Court, Queen’s Bench)

  • Dixon had sufficient interest; he is neither a busybody nor a mere troublemaker

Sedley J

Addressing Rose Theatre

  • He declined to follow the approach of Schiemann J in Rose Theatre, where he had held that no member of the public can complain of any breach of statutory duty unless he or she objectively has an interest greater than that of the rest of the public
  • “…there will be, in public life, a certain number of cases of apparent abuse of power in which any individual, simply as a citizen, has a sufficient interest to bring the matter before the court.”: p. 117
  • The narrow approach in Rose Theatre, combined with the proposition that an aggregation of individuals cannot enhance the individual interest is incompatible successive cases that have held that specialist organisations can have sufficient interest (e.g., Child Poverty Action Group, Greenpeace, World Development Movement): p. 118
  • He argued that World Development Movement restores a strong line of older authority on standing that did not demand a special private interest on matters: p. 121A
  • The attempt to “elevate the question of standing at the leave stage above the elementary level of excluding busybodies and troublemakers and to demand something akin to a special private interest in the subject matter…is entirely misconceived”: p. 121A

On public law standing in general

  • Public law is not at base about rights, even though abuses of power may and often do invade private rights; it is about wrongs—that is to say misuses of public power; and the courts have always been alive to the fact that a person or organisation with no particular stake in the issue or the outcome may, without in any sense being a mere meddler, wish and be well placed to call the attention of the court to an apparent misuse of public power.”
  • “If an arguable case of such misuse can be made out on an application for leave, the court’s only concern is to ensure that it is not being done for an ill motive. It is if, on a substantive hearing, the abuse of power is made out that everything relevant to the applicant’s standing will be weighed up, whether with regard to the grant or simply to the form of relief.”: p 121B