Date of the ruling : October 20th 2015
Jurisdiction : European Court of Human Rights (Chamber judgement*)
The applicant, Fazia Ali, is a British national who was born in 1980, applied for housing assistance to Birmingham City Council in October 2006. She is a homeless person, and as the mother of two young children, in priority need of accommodation within the meaning of Part VII of the Housing Act 1996. In March 2007, after Ali’s rejection of a second offer of accommodation, the local council notified her that – because of her refusal – it had discharged its duty to her under the 1996 Housing Act and that she was no longer entitled to accommodation. She requested that the council review its decision, alleging that she had not received a formal letter in writing with regard to the second offer of accommodation. As a result a Homelessness Review Officer employed by the local council conducted an enquiry. In May 2007 the Officer upheld the decision that Ms Ali’s refusal of the offer of accommodation had discharged the council’s main housing duty to her. The officer concluded in particular that there was no reason to believe Ali had not received the second offer of housing by letter and that, in any case, even if she hadn’t received the letter, she had been well aware of the offer of accommodation, had viewed the property, and had turned it down.
On an appeal to the county court, Ali sought to challenge the Officer’s finding that she had received the second offer of housing in writing. However, the judge declined to deal with the question because it considered it to be a “purely factual issue” and appeal lay only on “a point of law.”
That decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court notably held that Ali’s right to accommodation was not a “civil right” for the purpose of Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Results and key consequences of the case : The European Court of Human Rights considered that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 ECHR. The court found, in particular, that Ms Ali’s right to accommodation was a “civil right” for the purpose of Article 6 § 1, the right to a fair trial, and as such, she was entitled to a fair hearing before an “independent and impartial” tribunal. In this case, the appeal to the court open to Ms Ali did indeed provide her with adequate protection in the determination of her civil right :
It found that although the county court did not have the jurisdiction to conduct a full review of the facts, the appeal available to Ms Ali did permit it to carry out a certain review of both the facts and the procedure by which the factual findings of the officer were arrived at. The court considered that with regard to the “determination” of rights and obligations deriving from a social welfare scheme, when due enquiry into the facts has already been conducted at the administrative adjudicatory stage, article 6 § 1 of the Convention could not be read as requiring that the judicial review before a court should encompass a reopening with a rehearing of witnesses. The appeal open to Ms Ali had therefore given her adequate protection as regards the judicial determination of her civil right.
In finding that there had been no breach of the Convention, the court examined the whole of the legislative scheme in question and pointed to a number of significant procedural safeguards in relation to the enquiry before the Homelessness Review Officer. Finally, UK legislative scheme to provide accommodation for the homeless is in compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights.
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* Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.