Zatreanu & ors v Dublin City Council  IEHC 556
On 4 December 2013, Hedigan J gave judgment in the High Court decision of Zatreanu & Ors v Dublin City Council. In this case, MLRC on behalf of its client, Mr Zatreanu, had sought judicial review of Dublin City Council’s decision not to grant Mr Zatreanu’s application for a priority transfer to other Dublin City Council accommodation. Mr Zatreanu had applied for the transfer because he and his family were suffering severe harassment in the area. The Council had refused the application on the basis that the incidents were a matter for the Gardai. The High Court quashed the Council’s decision.
In reaching its decision, the High Court considered the Council’s housing allocations scheme and the reasons given by the Council for refusing the priority transfer. The Court held it was “clear” that incidents of harassment and intimidation were matters for the Council to consider in assessing priority transfer applications. The High Court found, as a result, that the Council had applied an incorrect test in deciding on the application. The Court quashed the Council’s decision and referred the application back to the Council for reconsideration.
Openness and fairness-Reasons given for decision must enable recipient to understand the basis of the decision and decision must be within scope
The High Court decision is important in affirming that:
- A person affected by an administrative decision has, in general, a right to know the reasons on which the decision is based; and
- The underlying rule is that the decision making process must be fair, open and transparent.
The basis for applying for the transfer
Mr Zatreanu had applied to Dublin City Council for a transfer as he and his family had been subjected to physical attacks, harassment and intimidation by certain local residents in and around his family’s home. He had applied to be given a priority transfer under the Dublin City Council Allocations Scheme on the basis that there were “exceptional social grounds” for doing so. The Council refused the application.
The Housing Act 1966, as amended, places a duty on housing authorities such as Dublin City Council to assess the need for the provision of housing for those in need of it and to determine the priority to be accorded when allocating housing which it owns. The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 allows the Council to disregard the normal priority where there are exceptional circumstances, including exceptional compassionate grounds.
Dublin City Council’s Allocations Scheme provides that priority status for housing or for a transfer may be given on “exceptional social grounds”. The Scheme sets out how investigations are to be carried out where a person alleges that they are being subjected to harassment and intimidation.
Dublin City Council’s reasons for refusing the priority transfer
Dublin City Council refused Mr. Zatreanu’s transfer application. The Council did not give reasons to Mr Zatreanu for this decision. MLRC made submissions to the Council requesting the reasons for the decision. In response to MLRC’s submissions, the Council gave as the reason for the refusal: “It is a matter for the Gardai to deal with incidents of law and order and, in general, such incidents are not within the scope of the Exceptional Social Grounds Scheme.”
Judgment – Dublin City Council’s decision quashed – Reasons given showed Council adopted incorrect test in assessing the application
Hedigan J held that the Council had not applied the correct test in deciding on the application. The Court noted that harassment and intimidation were clearly matters which came within the Council’s Allocations Scheme. Hedigan J said, “Such incidents [of harassment and intimidation] will almost always involve breaches of the law which the gardai might well deal with. The mere fact that the gardai might be involved does not mean that there has not been harassment and intimidation.” The Court held that the Council, “in adopting this view of the scope of the scheme [to exclude harassment and intimidation], the [Council] had applied a test that was too narrow.”
The High Court quashed the decision and referred Mr Zatreanu’s application back to the Council for reconsideration.
In this case, the Council had made its decision based on an incorrect test. That this had happened was clear from the reasons given by the Council for the decision. The High Court decision is a very welcome one for MLRC’s client, Mr Zatreanu, who for several years has been, with his family, suffering severe harassment around his home. It is also a very welcome decision in affirming the requirement that the administrative decision making process must be fair, open and transparent and that the recipient of such a decision must be able to assess from the decision whether it was fair or not.
MLRC would like to thank Siobhan Phelan BL and Feichín McDonagh SC who, pro bono, successfully represented our client.