Runa Begum v Tower Hamlets LBC [2003] UKHL 5

The House of Lords has confirmed the Court of Appeal’s finding (see below) that the scheme for reviewing homelessness decisions under ss202-204 Housing Act 1996 is compatible with art 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

The Court said that despite trends in Strasbourg to extend the scope of art 6 civil rights and obligations to cover some administrative decision making, it was not necessary for an appellate procedure in an administrative context such as this to have full jurisdiction over the administrative decision to re-examine the merits of the case. Jurisdiction to deal with the case as the nature of the decision required was sufficient. The county court did have such jurisdiction.

 

The test for whether it was necessary to have an independent fact finder did not depend on the extent to which the administrative scheme was likely to involve resolution of disputes of fact. The question was whether, consistently with the rule of law and constitutional propriety, the relevant decision-making powers could be entrusted to administrators. If so, it did not matter that there were many or few occasions on which they needed to make findings of fact.

 

The Court declined to make a ruling on whether rights under s193 of the Act should be classified as civil rights for the purposes of art 6. It was enough to say, assuming that they were, that the right of appeal under s204 was sufficient to satisfy art 6.

 

 

Court of Appeal [2002] EWCA Civ 239

A housing authority’s internal review of its decisions regarding suitability of offers under the homelessness provisions of the Housing Act 1996 was not incompatible with Article 6 ECHR (fair trial) because the role of the County Court, on appeal, was sufficient to meet Art. 6 requirements, even though it was not a fact-finding or fully appellate role.

The authority accepted a full housing duty to a homeless woman. She refused an offer of  accommodation, but the authority regarded the property offered as ‘suitable’, and their duty as thereby discharged.

Internal review upheld this approach. On appeal to the County Court, the judge felt he was limited to a review only, of the authority’s approach to the facts, and that article 6 required access to a full appellate determination of the disputed issues. So he granted the appeal. The Court of Appeal held that a homeless person’s ‘civil rights’ are indeed engaged by the functions under the Housing Act – and are ‘determined’, in the sense that the grant or refusal of a tenancy would often have grave consequences. The authority’s internal reviewing officer was not capable of being independent or impartial, given the officer’s role within the authority. But the scheme of the Housing Act was that the officer’s discretion or judgment, rather than his or her resolution of facts, was expected. The growing case law on article 6 showed that it is good enough, for article 6 purposes, that the second level ‘appeal’ to the County Court about the issue, was in the nature of a review, rather than a further fact-finding body, in the context of this sort of a question.

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