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Airports Commission Fights Off ‘Apparent Bias’ Claim

In a case which underlines the critical importance of maintaining appearances in the making of any official decision, a campaign group fiercely opposed to the expansion of Stansted Airport has failed to convince the High Court that a crucial resolution of the Airports Commission was infected by apparent bias.

Members of STOP Stansted Expansion had attacked the Commission’s decision to adopt certain ‘sift criteria’ which would be used to create a shortlist of proposals for the expansion of London’s air traffic capacity. It was submitted that the decision should be quashed because a member of the Commission during the relevant period was the former chief executive of the company that owned Stansted.

However, after a detailed analysis of the commissioner’s employment history, the role he played within the Commission and the decision-making process, the Court found that, although wise administrators should always be ‘mindful of appearances’, an informed and fair-minded observer would not have taken the view that there was a real possibility of apparent bias.

Although the commissioner had continued to be paid consultancy fees following his retirement as chief executive, he had had no involvement in his former employer’s core business for almost two years. He owed his official position to his expertise in airport operation and management and had eventually stepped down from the Commission ‘as a precautionary measure’.

His former employers had only acquired Stansted following his appointment to the Commission and he had withdrawn from sections of a meeting at which the sift criteria were considered in outline. He had also stepped down from the Commission as soon as it became clear that his former employers were proposing extra runways at the airport.