Same-sex relationships and the discrimination of landlords under death of secured tenants, provokes the wisdom of the judiciary when the progressive interpretation of existing statute is the only salient answer to a claim for devolved rights by the freeholder.
After living together in a committed homosexual relationship for over thirty years, the respondent had been left facing continued occupancy of the flat under the terms of an assured rather than secure tenancy following the death of his partner and secure tenant, thus by falling subject to the lesser of the two tenancies, the respondent had become vulnerable to potentially increased rents and no legal rights to challenge repossession should the freeholder decide to remove him.
Having sought enforcement under sch.2 para.1 of the Rent Act 1977 the appellant landlord argued that same-sex relationships were precluded from the enjoyment of direct succession of statutory tenancy as prescribed, however those surviving death could remain in occupation under an assured tenancy, as was held in Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd.
Whereupon the respondent argued that as that case was raised prior to the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), devolution of rights through the application of the 1977 Act constituted a direct violation of arts.8 (Right to respect for private and family life) and 14 (Prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), therefore he was free to remain in occupation under the same rights bestowed those in sch.1 paras.1, 2 and 3 of the 1977 Act, which stated that:
“1.Paragraph 2 or, as the case may be, paragraph 3 below shall have effect, subject to section 2(3) of this Act, for the purpose of determining who is the statutory tenant of a dwelling-house by succession after the death of the person (in this Part of this Schedule referred to as “the original tenant”) who, immediately before his death, was a protected tenant of the dwelling-house or the statutory tenant of it by virtue of his previous protected tenancy.
2. If the original tenant was a man who died leaving a widow who was residing with him at his death then, after his death, the widow shall be the statutory tenant if and so long as she occupies the dwelling-house as her residence.
3. Where paragraph 2 above does not apply, but a person who was a member of the original tenant’s family was residing with him at the time of and for the period of 6 months immediately before his death then, after his death, that person or if there is more than one such person such one of them as may be decided by agreement, or in default of agreement by the county court, shall be the statutory tenant if and so long as he occupies the dwelling-house as his residence.”
Historically the courts viewed para.3 of the Rent Act 1977 as designed to treat unmarried women as family members in order to allow assured tenancies to permit continuous occupancy when no marriage or family previously existed, however Fitzpatrick widened the scope of entitlement when the House of Lords had held that:
“[T]wo people of the same sex can be regarded as having established membership of a family, one of the most significant of human relationships which both gives benefits and imposes obligations.”
In the first hearing the court awarded for the respondent on principle that overt discrimination was not a virtue welcome in English law, while the Court of Appeal upheld the previous judgment before the matter wound up before the House of Lords.
Here the facts were given equal attention before the House dismissed the appeal on grounds that the time was right to embrace the universal nature of close and loving bonds and the freedoms of the Convention without a need for Parliamentary involvement, while further holding that:
“[T]he social policy underlying the 1988 extension of security of tenure under paragraph 2 to the survivor of couples living together as husband and wife is equally applicable to the survivor of homosexual couples living together in a close and stable relationship.”
In this conjoined appeal case there were two matters in need of address, and both involved a local authority and the issuing of final care orders for families in need of reunion. The first was re S (Minors) (Care Order: Implementation of Care Plan) and the second re W (Minors) (Care Order: Adequacy of Care Plan) as shown below:
Re S (Minors) (Care Order: Implementation of Care Plan)
As the mother of three children aged fourteen, eleven and ten, to two fathers, the oldest of them was raised by the father of his younger siblings, and over a course of almost a decade became subject to both emotional, physical and sexual abuse on an almost routine basis.
Having run away from his home the victim explained his suffering and was subsequently placed into foster care, whereupon the stepfather denied all allegations with the full support of the victim’s mother, yet when challenged he displayed threatening behaviour before the local authority and was later sentenced to community service.
In light of those events the two younger children were also placed into foster care, while the parents separated in order to obtain their return to the family home despite recommendations by professional experts that the father remained an unacceptable risk to the children.
Following a hearing in the local court the father was found guilty of sexually abusing the eldest child, while both parents were held to have been physically and emotionally abusive towards all three children, with particular regard to the eldest sibling, while the local authority responded by seeking care orders for the three children.
While it was agreed that the eldest was to remain in foster care, the younger children were designated a care plan involving their return to the mother, however there was a degree of anxiety surrounding the absolute power of local authority decisions in such circumstances, and so mention was made of the potential human rights violation should the mother and children not retain a tenable relationship, along with the proposal of interim care orders so as to provide assurances to the family.
At the hearing the judge granted final care orders for all three children, and yet over time the promises of the social workers and appointed guardians dissolved into disappointment after none of the proposed programmes materialised.
Having been presented to the Court of Appeal, it was held that the local authority had abjectly failed on its promise to provide care, but was acquitted under arguments of monetary cuts and a reduction in public resources, whereupon the mother contended that the court had erred in not considering her suggestions for interim care orders and the children’s guardian sought relief under ss.6 (Acts of public authorities) and 7 (Proceedings) of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), however both arguments were dismissed.
Re W (Minors) (Care Order: Adequacy of Care Plan)
In this instance the welfare of two boys aged ten and twelve years of age rested upon the intervention of the mother’s grandparents, who themselves resided in the United States of America.
Having met overseas, the parents returned to live in the United Kingdom in order to marry before starting a family, however during the course of their childhood the boys had been subjected to numerous separations and reconciliations, and also spent considerable time living apart from one another while remaining in contact with both parents.
This chaotic existence had later given rise to questions concerning the ability of the parents to meet the needs of the children, in large part due to the deteriorating mental health of the mother, who had made insubstantial allegations against the father prior to the local authority applying for an emergency protection and interim care order.
Having established a care plan it was agreed by the County Court that the two boys would be placed into foster care before the arrival of the American grandparents, who planned to live with them in the United Kingdom despite reservations by the judge that their migration would materialise, and that the proposed therapy and marital management programmes would succeed, with particular emphasis on the mother’s diagnosed imbalances.
Upon challenge by the local authority in the Court of Appeal it was held that the care plan had been prematurely executed, and so the final care order was replaced with an interim order, while referring the case back to the awarding judge, an alteration which instigated reluctance by the grandparents to assume care of the boys unless under definite conditions. This prompted the reissue of a final care order with the full support of the parents, albeit in argument that they would apply to have the order discharged if their reunion was not provided in due course.
For clarity, under s.33 of the Children Act 1989 an acting local authority is granted parental responsibility (PR) for the duration of the assigned care order and can therefore determine the rights of the parents in relation to their children, while under s.100, the courts are expressly denied interference with those powers, however, s.6 of the HRA 1998 prevents a public authority from acting in a way that proves incompatible with a Convention right, while s.7 allows those victim of such actions, to bring proceedings against them.
S.8 (Judicial remedies) further enables the court to decide how best to provide legal remedy, or issue powers appropriate to its jurisdiction, which translates that where a local authority infringes art.8 of the HRA 1998 (Right to respect for private and family life) the deciding court can lawfully grant relief to those affected.
More interestingly, under the Review of Children’s Cases Regulations 1991 a local authority is required to consider the possible discharge of a care order on a six-monthly basis (subject to the views and consideration of the child(ren) and parents) while s.3(1) of the Children Act 1989 provides that parents retain the same rights, duties, powers and parental responsibilities as before an order was made, therefore their civil rights are affected, but not wholly compromised.
Finally, s.38 of the Children Act 1989 provides the court with powers to issue interim care orders in order to provide safety and security for vulnerable children for a determined period.
With both cases put before the House of Lords it became evident that in the first case the Court of Appeal had introduced a ‘starring’ mechanism as a means of preventing failure to implement care plans, whereby each plan was marked with progressive indicators that when not reached in the agreed period triggered automatic rights to reactivate the consultation process in order to avoid missed or overlooked public body requirements.
In the second case no such mechanism had been used, which had prompted intervention by the Secretary of State for Health, who received claims that ss.31, 33(3),38 and 100 of the Children Act 1989 were incompatible with existing Convention rights, while the local authority had appealed against the alteration of the care order and the broadening of judicial powers to award interim orders.
Examination of the Children Act 1989 and suggested incompatibility with Convention rights after the introduction of ‘starring’ drew immediate reference to the overlapping rights of courts when care orders are in effect, and while the House appreciated that the inventive use of rudimentary measures was a decision privy to Parliament, and that while there was stark evidence to support legislative reform, it was simply ultra vires for the Appeal Court to act without restraint.
An so with regard to the overextension of the interim care orders when faced with an ill-prepared care plan, the House upheld the appeals bought by both a ministerial and public body, while taking time to remind the parties that:
“Where a care order is made the responsibility for the child’s care is with the authority rather than the court. The court retains no supervisory role, monitoring the authority’s discharge of its responsibilities. That was the intention of Parliament.”
The struggle for autonomy amidst the pain of abuse, is central to a case involving the wishes of a patient with a debilitating illness, and the requisite obligations of the State. By balancing the safeguarding nature of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 with Convention rights, it is left to the courts to determine which argument offers the greatest reasoning.
After experiencing years of intense sexual abuse during the formative years of her childhood, the patient in question became prisoner to her manifestations of trauma, through increased dependency on alcohol and medically prescribed opiates. The prologue is one of repeated lapses of overall function, underpinned by contrasting highs of academic achievement that defied her emotional scars; but through time, the former overshadowed the applicants deliberate plans for happiness, in the form of chronic anorexia nervosa.
Following hospitalisation on numerous occasions through dangerously low body weight, and a number of therapeutic approaches proving collectively unsuccessful, it was decided by the applicant to submit advanced decisions surrounding life sustaining procedures, where her health suffered to the point of imminent death; only to then provide paradoxical statements portraying her deep conviction to regain a life of meaning that had once been enjoyed. This cyclical existence placed prolonged stress upon the applicant’s health, and that of her parents and appointed specialists, who had all extended themselves beyond any obligation to keep what was considered an engaging, and yet tormented, woman alive.
Several years of medical intervention provided little to no lasting results, and so it was largely accepted that after a year of no real calorific ingestion, the patient had made clear her decision to refuse food, and that in light of her last advanced decision, she wished to remain in palliative care until the date of her impending death. When her BMI (body mass index) then reached a potentially fatal level, it was with the concerns of those assigned her care, that the matter went before the Court of Protection, in the aim of determining if (i) the patient lacked mental capacity at the time her last advanced decision was made, and (ii) whether it was in her best interests to cease intervention, and leave her to die with dignity, or resort to long-term invasive nasogastric treatment to restore her BMI to that where therapeutic rehabilitation could again recommence.
Art.2 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (Right to life) determines that the State is under a duty to protect the individual right to life, and yet art.3 (Prohibition of torture) serves to prevent any inhuman or degrading treatment, which in this case, the proposed medical programme would, by all accounts, place unreasonably high levels of physical and emotional stress upon the patient; in part as the result of years of previous treatments producing a ravaged immune system with weakened bones mass. However, art.5 (Right to liberty and security) and art.8 (Right to respect for private and family life) both enforced the applicant’s right to die with dignity, in a manner that suited both herself and her family.
In light of her advanced decision, the contradiction of mental capacity while suffering from an eating disorder, allowed s.3(1) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to question if the cessation of ingestion can validate the supposition that a person can understand and evaluate, information as part of a decision making process, when they are consciously killing themselves, despite knowing the consequences of that action. For that reason, it was then argued that any suggestion that the advanced directive was undertaken while compos mentis, failed when an irrational request serves only to end a life and not preserve it.
With full appreciation of the medical evidence and lengthy testimony of all parties (aside from the patient whose heath was too critical for an appearance), it was concluded that in spite of the discouraging background to both the applicant’s childhood experiences and the endemic frustrations of anorexia, there remained a concept and hope, that at the age of thirty-two, it was not too late to rule out any meaningful recovery, nor the chance for the applicant to resume the full life she had once, if only briefly, created.
For those reasons, the court reasoned that the applicant lacked mental capacity upon the execution of her advanced decision, that subsequently forcible restitution was now in her best interests, and that such action failed to interfere with the rights presented, while further holding that:
“[W]here a person lacks capacity, there is a duty to make the decision that is in [their] best interests.”
Accusations of human rights violations and irrationality of policy, lay behind this failed judicial review hearing, after the denied care trust funding of laparoscopic gastric surgery upon a morbidly obese patient.
While often difficult to draw absolute clarity from NHS guidelines and framework policies, the matter dealt with on this occasion stemmed from a number of misapplications, breakdowns in communication, and unwillingness to pursue a claim through the accorded channels.
As may, or may not be common knowledge to many, it is operationally agreed that the associated Primary Care Trusts (PCT’s) of the United Kingdom are given the freedoms to set (within reason) their own thresholds and qualifying criteria for certain procedures, one of which includes preventative gastric surgeries to patients seen as most in need.
Unfortunately on this occasion, the patients BMI fell short of the required level, despite neighbouring counties demonstrating more lenient grading for the same treatment. Subsequently, when his application for an individual funding request was refused on grounds that his condition failed to meet the prescribed eligibility, the call for judicial review commenced.
Resting upon four reasons for review, the claimant cited (i) that the policy guidelines set by the issuing body were discriminatory in that they precluded social factors relevant to a claim for exclusivity, (ii) that as a result of such prohibition, art.8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (right to respect for private and family life) was in contravention, (iii) that the same breach impacted upon art.6 of the HRA (right to a fair trial), and (iv) that the conclusive argument against funding, lacked clarity enough to satisfy the patient and acting representatives.
Upon closer examination of the facts, it was agreed that while no interferences of human rights could be seen to exist in art.8, the resulting decision of art.6 would have remained the same regardless, while this position was supported by the observation that social factors were immaterial when deciding the award of funds, and that the prerequisite medical evidence for exception was balanced enough to remain within the two articles presented.
In closing, it was also found that the written opinion of the key adjudicating panel consultant was determinable enough to uphold their decision to reject the application, and that in light of those collective arguments, a judicial review could not stand, while the court held that:
“[P]rovided that it acts rationally, a PCT may set policies allocating medical resources and treatments even though the effect thereof is that some people will be denied treatment from which they would undoubtedly benefit.”
The Human Rights Act was brought into being as a consequence of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which was first formulated by the Council of Europe in 1950.
Founded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (as used by the United Nations), ten countries first rallied for its formation, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The Convention took effect in September 1953, with the primary directive of protecting specific fundamental rights among Member States of the Council of Europe, while the core values of the UK constitution enjoyed presumptions of liberty, representative government and the rule of law.
Before the ECHR became intrinsic to domestic law, Ministers often found themselves abusing discretionary powers, which amounted to a constitution largely beyond reproach, relying instead upon collective political norms for enforcement. This protracted period of neglect gave rise to an increase in administrative jurisdiction, and during the 1980s the courts began to adopt a more concrete conception of the rule of law, preferring instead to propagate such values as ‘freedom of expression’ ‘equality’ and ‘freedom from destitution’. However, presumptions followed that common law infringement upon these values would deem statute intervention unlawful, and it soon became conventional thinking; particularly in the well known R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Brind, where the domestic courts held that as the ECHR was not part of English law, the government was able to restrict media coverage of Irish extremist groups, despite clear encroachment upon the right to freedom of expression, and a sadly failed appeal by the journalists fiercely defending that right.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1998 that the British constitution accepted that using convention as a means of entrusting civil liberties could no longer be tolerated, and so on 9 November 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 was enacted by Royal assent. From 2 October 2000 onward, all rights and freedoms previously safeguard by the ECHR were now directly enforceable though UK common law, and the sovereignty of Parliament was agreed.
This upheaval in institutional law was particularly significant, in that for the first time English judicial authority was awarded greater scope for case interpretation, where historically such matters were determined through ministerial debate. This was however, a change that was not without its detractors, nor ignorant of an entrenched inclination to overlook common law in lieu of political fervour.