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Court Dispels Slaughterhouse Blues

A group of slaughterhouse and cutting plant owners who received unwelcome bills from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) will not have to pay them after the High Court ruled that the charges sought to be levied were authorised neither by European Union nor domestic legislation.

The FSA had sent the owners invoices in various amounts which it claimed were payable by way of charges for official controls on their activities. On their face, the demands were to cover the shortfall in the EU minimum charge for official controls in respect of the financial year 2011-12.

Upholding the owners’ judicial review challenge in a case which turned entirely on issues of statutory interpretation, the Court ruled that a legal basis for the charges had not been established under either EU Regulation 882/2004 or the. Meat (Official Controls Charges) (England) Regulations 2009

The Court noted that, although the EU regulation imposed an obligation on member states to ensure that the relevant charges were collected, it did not contain an express requirement on individuals to pay them. That position was not cured by the domestic regulations which did not go as far as enabling the FSA to levy the particular charges at issue in the case.

The FSA had sought to rely on a purposive construction of the EU regulation on the basis that it would be a ‘nonsense’ for a member state to have an obligation to collect certain charges but for there to be no corresponding obligation on individuals to pay them. However, the Court noted the established principle that express authority is required for public authorities to levy charges on individuals.