What is a public authority?
Produced in partnership with Carl Gardner of Head of Legal
What is a public authority?

The following Public Law guidance note Produced in partnership with Carl Gardner of Head of Legal provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • What is a public authority?
  • Judicial review
  • The factors considered by the courts
  • Relevance of the legal source of power
  • Characteristics of functions carried out
  • Public authorities for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998
  • Core public authorities
  • Courts and tribunals
  • Functional public authorities
  • Care providers
  • more

There is no single, universal answer to the question whether a particular organisation is treated, in law, as a public authority.

Rather, on one hand the courts have developed case law on which bodies are subject to administrative law through the judicial review procedure; and Parliament has defined in a variety of ways those public bodies about whom it has intended to legislate for specific purposes such as the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998), and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FIA 2000).

Judicial review

Judicial review is the primary judicial procedure by which individuals and firms can seek a remedy against abuses of power by public authorities. It is a public law remedy, aimed only at controlling the use of powers of a public nature.

Most judicial review claims are brought against those clearly involved in the exercise of public power, such as ministers, government departments and agencies, devolved administrations and legislatures, local authorities, health and education authorities, police and prison services. These bodies are, broadly speaking, those who are also 'core public authorities' for the purposes of the HRA 1998.

However, not all decisions of a public nature are made by such obviously government and public bodies. For that reason the courts have a set of principles for identifying when the decision of a less obviously public body is amenable