Brick Court Chambers

News & Events

‘One of the super-sets’, Brick Court Chambers is ‘an all-round strong’ set with ‘a large selection of high-quality competition law specialists’, ‘top commercial counsel’, ‘an excellent chambers for banking litigation’, and a ‘go-to’ set for public administrative law.
The Legal 500 2020
The clerks’ room ‘sets the benchmark’ for other sets with its ‘friendly, knowledgeable, and hardworking’ clerks.
The Legal 500 2020
"An outstanding commercial set with a track record of excellence across its core areas of work."
Chambers & Partners 2018
"A set that is singled out for its "first-rate" clerking and "client service-oriented, commercial approach."

Seven justice Supreme Court throws significant doubt on whether resources are relevant to the initial assessment of the needs of disabled people


In R(on the application of KM) v Cambridgeshire County Council [2012] UKSC 23, the Supreme Court considered the duties of local authorities under s.2(1) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Person Act 1970.

One particularly controversial issue is the extent to which local authorities can take their resources into account when assessing the needs of the individual. The principal authority on this issue is a previous decision of the House of Lords, R v Gloucestershire County Council ex p Barry [1997] AC 584, which has often been understood to have decided that local authorities can take resources into account when assessing needs, even at the outset (or the "first stage" of assessment).  Thus, if a local authority has less money, the needs of the disabled people for whom it is responsible reduce, and its statutory obligation to meet those needs is ipso facto fulfilled.

It had been thought that KM's case provided an opportunity to review or clarify Barry. For this reason, a seven justice bench was convened and permission was given for four Charities (the National Autistic Society; SENSE; Guide Dogs for the Blind; and RNIB) to intervene. The Charities argued that resources should be irrelevant to the first stage of assessing "need" (albeit that they are relevant to later stages in the analysis). It transpired in the course of the hearing that lack of resources had not in fact had any impact on KM's position. Accordingly, the Supreme Court considered Barry only obiter and in passing.

Nevertheless, the seven Justices unanimously held that "if and insofar as [Barry] held that constraints upon resources were also relevant to what I will describe as the first stage, there are arguable grounds for fearing that the committee fell into error" (para 6 of the judgment of Lord Wilson, with whom Lords Phillips, Walker, Brown, Kerr and Dyson agreed; also agreed by Lady Hale in a separate judgment).  Moreover, the Court unanimously endorsed an assessment procedure which treats resources as irrelevant to "presenting needs".

As Lady Hale said, when commenting on the obiter nature of this point, "after considering what Lord Wilson and I have to say, [the Charities] may feel that their journey has not been entirely in vain".

The judgment is here.

Richard Gordon QC and Victoria Wakefield appeared for the Charities.