• In the case of Ali v Birmingham City Council [2010] U.K.S.C. 8, it was held that the Housing Act 1996 s193 obliges local authorities to provide accommodations for homeless persons. If they make an accommodation offer and the person declines it without good reason, the authority will have discharged their duty. Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights does not engage in judicial review of such cases because the determinations related to the 1996 Act do not amount to civil rights.

Facts of the Case

  • D sent an offer of accommodation to C in writing, warning that if it was rejected, they would consider themselves to have discharged their statutory duty under the 1996 Act to secure them accommodation.
  • D deemed C to have rejected their offers by not communicating acceptance, but C contested that they had not received such notice.
  • C sought review of the decision. The reviewing officer found that the letter had been sent and D had discharged its duty.
  • C applied to the County Court, who held that whether notice was given was a question of fact for the reviewing officer and rejected the appeal.
  • C appealed on the grounds that the lack of fact-finding jurisdiction on appeal for the County Court was in breach of Article 6(1) of the ECHR, which guarantees the right to a fair trial in the determination of civil rights and obligations.

Issues

  • Did a County Court appeal involve the determination of a civil right under Article 6 of the ECHR?
  • If so, did Article 6 require that the Court hearing the appeal be able to determine issues of fact in contested cases?

Held by the Supreme Court

  • Finding for D, that the case did not engage Article 6 of the ECHR. There was no ‘civil right’ to determine whether D had discharged their duty.
  • Even if Article 6 had been engaged, the County Court’s lack of fact-finding jurisdiction would still be compatible with the ECHR.

Lord Hope

  • To extend a civil right to a claim under the 1996 Act would be to go beyond the tests so far laid down by the Strasbourg Court. While subsequent cases such Tsfayo v UK [2006] outline that the current case falls within the County Court’s jurisdiction, but do not address whether the claim concerned the determination of civil rights.
  • Previous case law shows a distinction between benefits which, in substance, are defined precisely by domestic law, and benefits which are dependent upon the exercise of judgement by the relevant authority.
  • “That being the present state of the authorities, I would be prepared now to hold that cases where the award of services or benefits in kind is not an individual right of which the applicant can consider himself the holder, but is dependent upon a series of evaluative judgments by the provider as to whether the statutory criteria are satisfied and how the need for it ought to be met, do not engage article 6(1). In my opinion they do not give rise to ‘civil rights’ within the autonomous meaning that is given to that expression for the purposes of that article. C’s right to accommodation under section 193 of the 1996 Act falls into that category. I would hold that article 6 was not engaged by the decisions that were taken in the appellants’ cases by the reviewing officer” [49].
  • For ease of administration, the review is entrusted to one officer equipped to deal with issues relating to the suitability of the declined accommodation. Whether or not the letters were received is ‘a staging post’ to a broader and more judgmental inquiry into the accommodation’s suitability. The absence of a full fact-finding jurisdiction in the appeal court does not mean it cannot satisfy the requirements of Article 6.