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Neutral Citation Number:
Reported Number: R(IS)4/08
File Number: CIS 1216 2005
Appellant: (Mote v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and another [2007] EWCA Civ 1324)
Judge/Commissioner: Judge H. Levenson
Date Of Decision: 14/12/2007
Date Added: 03/08/2006
Main Category: Housing and council tax benefits
Main Subcategory: recovery of overpayments
Secondary Category: Recovery of overpayments
Secondary Subcategory: other
Notes: Tribunal practice – fair hearing – whether overpayment appeal should be adjourned pending criminal proceedings The claimant was in receipt of income support and housing benefit. The Secretary of State and the local authority decided that those benefits had been overpaid because of non-disclosure of income and that substantial overpayments were recoverable. The claimant appealed the decisions of both. Before those appeals were heard, the claimant was charged with criminal offences of dishonesty in relation to his benefit claims. The Secretary of State and the local authority wrote to the tribunal to ask it to consider postponing the hearing of the appellant’s appeals in the light of the criminal proceedings. However, the district chairman directed that there be no further postponement and refused further written requests by the claimant for a postponement. On the hearing date the tribunal decided not to adjourn and proceeded in the absence of the claimant, dismissing both appeals. The claimant appealed to the Commissioner, who dismissed the appeals, holding that the tribunal had given a cogent, reasonable explanation for its decision to proceed, and that in the absence of any error of law there was no basis for a Commissioner to interfere with the exercise of its discretion. The claimant appealed to the Court of Appeal. It was argued on behalf of the claimant that the tribunal had erred in deciding not to adjourn the hearing of the appeals and that its substantive decision dismissing the appeals was based on an inadequate exercise of its inquisitorial function and an inadequate analysis of the facts. Held, dismissing the appeal, that: 1. the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998 did not require a departure from the approach of the authorities establishing that the court or civil tribunal enjoys a real discretion whether or not to adjourn and that a relevant consideration is whether the continuation of the civil proceedings will give rise to a real risk of prejudice to the defendant in the criminal proceedings (R v L [2006] EWCA Crim 1902, [2006] 1 WLR 3092 cited in particular) (paragraphs 30 to 32); 2. claimants are still entitled to the privilege against self-incrimination, but there was nothing in the present case to suggest that the claimant risked self-incrimination or other prejudice from the hearing of his appeal (paragraphs 35 to 38); 3. the tribunal had given appropriately careful consideration to the matter before deciding to proceed with the appeals and its exercise of discretion was well reasoned and free from material error. The Commissioner was therefore right to find that there was no basis for interfering with its decision (paragraph 40);
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