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High Court: The Secretary of State was found to have acted lawfully in Alconbury, albeit that Article 6 of the Human Rights Act was breachedThese are uncertain times for the planning system in this country. Cases north and south of the border have raised fundamental challenges to the way that planning decisions are taken. The Government must have expected some challenges when the European Convention on Human Rights was given domestic force by the Human Rights Act 1998, but it cannot have expected the succession of key decisions that have found the planning system falling short of the standards required by the Convention. Five weeks ago, the House of Lords finished hearing oral submissions in the Alconbury case. Their Lordships are now considering whether the planning roles of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) are in breach of the right to an independent and impartial tribunal under Article 6 of the Convention, as the High Court concluded in that case, or are compatible with the Convention, as counsel for the Government have argued. Their Lordships have also heard submissions from counsel for the Scottish ministers, as the the House of Lords’ decision is likely to be influential in future Scottish planning cases. There is confident talk that their Lordships will be sympathetic to the submissions presented for the Government, and that the decision of the High Court will be overturned. However, until the House of Lords delivers its judgment (which may be a month or more away), the future structure of town and country planning remains in doubt. The findings of the High Court in Alconbury provide some pointers to the ways a new, improved human rights planning system might be developed.

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