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In the news
The Howard League for Penal Reform has called for a review of the “unfair and unrealistic” Criminal Courts Charge, which “ penalises the poor and encourages the innocent to plead guilty”. The mandatory charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on those who admit committing minor misdemeanours, regardless of their circumstances.
The charity has compiled a list of cases where heavy financial charges have been demanded of people convicted of low-level offences. These include the case of a 38-year-old homeless man who admitted persistently begging in Oxford, and breaching an Asbo prohibiting him from sitting within 10 metres of a cash machine. He was jailed for 30 days and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge.
Sims v Dacorum Borough Council  UKSC 63 – read judgment 12 November 2014 and
R (ota ZH and CN) v. LB Newham et al  UKSC 62 – read judgment 12 November 2014
A brace of cases showing the limited role which Article 8 and Article 1 of the 1st Protocol has to play in housing law, so heavily regulated by a combination of statute and contract law. The human right protections conferred, as we shall see, are mainly procedural.
The contract and property issues are well illustrated by the case of Sims. Mr and Mrs Sims had lived in a council property, until Mrs Sims left, she said as a result of her husband’s violence. For her own housing reasons she sought termination of their periodic secure joint tenancy by unilateral notice. Her husband, as the other joint tenant still living in the property, maintained in response to possession proceedings that he was entitled to remain there as a sole tenant; anything else was inconsistent with his Article 8 and A1P1 rights.
Rutherford and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 1613 (Admin) – Read judgement here.
At the end of May, the High Court ruled that the reduction in Housing Benefit under Regulation B13 of Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations – commonly dubbed “the bedroom tax” – did not unlawfully discriminate against a family with a disabled child requiring an additional bedroom for overnight careers because the shortfall was covered by discretionary housing payments.
The case involved three Claimants: Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their 14-year-old grandson Warren. Warren suffers from a profound disability requiring 24-hour care from at least two people. Mr and Mrs Rutherford need the assistance of two paid careers for two nights a week. The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow rented from a housing association and specifically adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Mr and Mrs Rutherford sleep in one room, Warren in another, and a third room is used as a bedroom for overnight carers and to store medical equipment.
Salvesen v. Riddell  UKSC 22, 24 April 2013, read judgment
When can an agricultural landlord turf out his tenant farmer? The answer to this question has ebbed and flowed since the Second World War, but one element of the latest attempt by the Scottish Parliament to redress the balance in favour of tenants has just been declared incompatible with Article 1 of the 1st Protocol (A1P1) as offending landlords’ rights to property. The Supreme Court has so ruled, upholding the Second Division of the Court of Session’s ruling in March 2012.
The reasoning is not just of interest to agricultural lawyers either side of the border. But a brief summary of the laws is necessary in order to identify the invidiousness of the new law as identified by the Court – and hence its applicability to other circumstances.
As will be seen from my postscript, the decision of the court below to the same effect appears to have had tragic consequences.
Michael Sims v Dacorum Borough Council  EWCA Civ 12 – read judgment
This was a property dispute which broke out on the marriage breakdown of two joint tenants of council property. The wife who sought termination of the periodic secure joint tenancy by unilateral notice. The husband, as the other joint tenant still living in the property, maintained that he was entitled remain there as a sole tenant.
In fact, the point had already been settled in the case of Hammersmith and Fulham LBC v. Monk  AC 478 which established that at common law, a periodic joint residential tenancy is terminated automatically, if one joint tenant, without the concurrence of the other joint tenant, or tenants serves a notice to quit on the landlord. Continue reading
BUCKLAND v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 40060/08 – HEJUD  ECHR 1710 – read judgment
The ECtHR’s recent decision in Buckland v UK demonstrates again how wonderfully delphic the subject of housing and Article 8 rights to private and family life has become.
In one sense, the outcome was fairly predictable because the case was determined by the UK Courts before the Supreme Court in Manchester CC v Pinnock established the principles of proportionality in possession claims.
Burnip v. Birmingham City Council, Trengrove v. Walsall Metropolitan Council, Gorry v. Wiltshire Council  EWCA Civ 629 – read judgment
In the same week that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan-Smith, announced his intention to implement sweeping reforms of the current system of disability benefits, the Court of Appeal has ruled that housing benefit rules were discriminatory against disabled people, in breach of Article 14 read with Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention.
Mr Duncan-Smith has already faced opposition to his reform proposals but has made it clear that he is willing to tackle this controversial issue. However, this week’s ruling is a timely reminder that social security law is extremely complex and that the Government will have to tread very carefully to avoid unwittingly causing further instances of unlawful discrimination.