The Weekly Round-Up: Family Benefits and Domestic Abuse (pt. 2)

8 March 2021 by

In the news:

  • The High Court will hear a case brought by a mother and her 11-month-old baby, who are arguing that they should not be excluded from the UK government’s ‘Healthy Start’ scheme. The scheme provides vouchers for healthy food, nutritional advice, and vitamins to low-income families, but currently excludes many migrant families, including those who have a right to live and work in the UK, have British children, and earn well below the threshold needed to obtain welfare benefits. The judicial review will challenge the eligibility criteria of the scheme on several grounds: it is inconsistent with the intended purpose of the scheme to benefit those in greatest need, it breaches human rights, and it indirectly discriminates against families from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.
  • Campaigners have welcomed a government announcement that it will introduce several key amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill currently being debated in Parliament. In particular, the Bill will make non-fatal strangulation a specific offence, with an attached maximum sentence of five years. This is a significant shift from the previous maximum six months’ sentence if tried in the Magistrates Court under the crime of common assault. The Bill will also expand the definition of coercive behaviour by removing the requirement that the victim co-habit with their abuser, and broaden the scope of the laws on revenge porn by enabling those who threaten to share indecent images to be prosecuted.
  • The European Court of Justice has ruled this week that air pollution in 75% of the United Kingdom’s urban areas has exceeded legal levels for over ten years. Nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted largely by diesel vehicles, significantly contributes to pollution, and was found by a scathing coroner’s report to have contributed to the death of a nine-year-old girl last year. Imposing charges in urban centres to deter polluting vehicles (‘clean air zones’) is thought to be the most effective means of combating the problem. However, the government has only established one such area, in London, in the four years since research was published. The legal proceedings in the CJEU began before Brexit was concluded, and the pollution limits are still part of UK law. The UK could therefore face financial penalties if it fails to remedy the situation within a reasonable period.

In the courts:

A And B (Minors: placement, faith) [2021] EWHC 455 (Admin): In this judicial review case, the Claimants, two brothers with complex medical and behavioural conditions from a strict Orthodox Haredi Jewish community, argued that the decision of Manchester City Council to offer them respite accommodation in a secular residential home in Manchester, rather than an exclusively Orthodox Jewish home in London, was unreasonable. In particular, it was contended that placement in the Manchester accommodation would prevent the boys from fully manifesting their religious faith, for example, in following kosher dietary rules and observing holy days, contrary to Part III of the Children Act (1989), and possibly Articles 8, 9, and 14 of the European Convention for Human Rights, and the Equality Act (2010). There was an important difference between the two brothers: it was agreed that A should undertake a 12-week assessment placement at one of the homes, whereas B would only stay at the home once a fortnight and during school holidays. Accordingly, His Honour Judge Stephen Davies held that the decision of the council to offer only A a place at the Manchester home was unlawful and in breach of his Article 8 and 9 rights under the ECHR, because he would not be able to cook kosher meals nor perform the required prayers by himself, and so the placement would not allow him to manifest his religion. However, the council’s proposal was not unlawful in relation to B, because the limitations imposed by a fortnightly short overnight stay were not significant enough to breach his rights under the ECHR.

Turner, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] EWHC 465 (Admin): The High Court rejected the Claimant’s case that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions acted unlawfully in withdrawing Errol Graham’s disability benefit, who tragically was found to have starved to death in his flat in 2018. It was contended that the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) policy for assessing Employment Support Allowance eligibility was unlawful on two grounds. First, the policy placed the onus on the applicant to show ‘good cause’ for failing to attend appointments, which was incompatible with the objectives of the legislation; and, second, the DWP has an implied duty to inquire as to why the applicant had withdrawn their engagement where they are known to have mental health difficulties, under s.149 of the Equality Act (EA) (2010). Justice Bourne held that the reference to ‘good cause’ did not create an unlawful burden of proof, because it was clear from the policy that the Defendant must also utilise information that they could reasonably obtain, rather than just relying entirely on the applicant to demonstrate their eligibility. In addition, s.149 of the EA did not impose a duty to inquire after individuals, but rather a broad obligation to give due regard to the advancement of opportunity for disabled people generally, which the Defendants satisfied. The Equality and Human Rights Commission was given intervenor status, but the judge considered their submissions to be outside the scope of the ground of challenge.

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