Civil Rights

October 22nd, 2015 by James Goudie KC

For the purposes of Article 6 of the ECHR, (i) when is there a civil right? (ii) if there is such a right, what is an “independent and impartial tribunal? (iii) if the tribunal is not independent and impartial, what is judicial scrutiny of sufficient scope?

All these questions have been covered by the Strasbourg Court in its long awaited Judgment on 20 October 2015 in Fazia Ali v UK.  Overruling the Court of Appeal and the UK Supreme Court, Tomlinson and others v Birmingham City Council (2010) UKSC 8, (2010) PTSR 524, the ECtHR has made the important finding that Ms Ali did have a “civil right”, notwithstanding that the case concerned entitlement not to cash, but to a benefit in kind.  Her right to be provided by Birmingham City Council with accommodation as a homeless person under Section 193 of the Housing Act 1996 was ruled to be a “civil right”.  She was therefore entitled to a “fair hearing” before an “independent and impartial tribunal”.  The ECtHR also found in Ms Ali’s favour that the local authority reviewing officer was not such a tribunal.  The third question above therefore arose.  The ECtHR held that in the circumstances of Ms Ali’s particular case a Section 204 appeal to the County Court on judicial review principles meant that there was no breach of Article 6.

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