FOURTH SECTION

PARTIAL DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 59580/00 
by B.H.  
against the United Kingdom

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 26 March 2002 as a Chamber composed of

Mr M. Pellonpää, President
 Sir Nicolas Bratza,  
 Mrs E. Palm
 Mr J. Makarczyk
 Mrs V. Strážnická
 Mr R. Maruste
 Mr S. Pavlovschi, judges
and Mrs M..O’Boyle, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 19 July 2000 and registered on 3 August 2000,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The applicant, B.H., is a United Kingdom national, who was born in 1966 and lives in Preston.

The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows:

On 2 September 1994 the applicant made a claim for housing benefit to South Ribble Borough Council (“the Council”) in respect of Micklewood, Dean Lane, Samlesbury, Preston. The applicant asserted in his application that his claim for income support was being processed by the Blackburn office.

The Council’s housing benefit officer made a routine visit to the property which the applicant claimed to be renting for GBP 575 per month. The officer suspected fraud and asked the Council’s fraud investigation officer to investigate. On or about 17 December 1994, the Council allegedly accessed personal data about the applicant from the Police National Computer.

On 19 September 1994, the applicant was interviewed and the officer recommended that housing benefit be refused. On 18 October 1994, the applicant was informed that his application had been refused on the ground that he had made false representations to the Council. The matter was re-considered by the Council on 15 November 1994 and the refusal was confirmed.

In November 1995, the applicant made a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about, inter alia, the refusal to award him housing benefit. As part of that complaint, the applicant forwarded to the Ombudsman documents that appeared to indicate that he had been in receipt of income support during 1994/95. The Council had not seen these documents previously and therefore agreed to review his claim, giving him, with it, a right of appeal. On 15 February 1996, the claim was reviewed on the basis of the income support during 1994 and 1995 but was refused. The applicant appealed to the Housing Benefit Review Board (“the Review Board”).

On 2 May 1996, the Review Board heard the applicant’s request for a review of the decision not to pay him housing benefit. The Review Board refused the applicant’s review on the grounds that  the applicant had failed to provide sufficient evidence of his income and had failed to provide sufficient evidence that he had no bank account.

The applicant sought judicial review of this decision. Leave to move for judicial review was initially refused by Mr Justice Laws on 27 January 1997. On 22 April 1997, Mr Justice Sedley ordered that the Council be given four weeks to show why leave to move for judicial review should not be granted. On 4 July 1997, by consent, the decision of the Review Board was quashed and the matter was remitted back to a new Review Board.

On 3 February 1998, a freshly constituted Review Board re-heard the applicant’s claim for Housing Benefit. The Board was made up of four councillors. The applicant appeared in person. Mr Gregory, the Revenues and Benefits Services Manager presented the case on behalf of the Council. The Board set out its findings of fact and rejected Mr Hamilton’s request for Housing Benefit.

The Board’s reasons for this conclusion were that the applicant’s income support claim was invalid because it had been obtained by fraudulent means. The Review Board further noted that the applicant had made false statements to his landlord about his qualifications, agreed to pay rent by standing order and subsequently denied that he had a bank account, was able to make a large cash advance and pay a high rent at the beginning of the tenancy and had a large number of electrical products belonging to him at the property.

The applicant sought judicial review of the Board’s decision on the grounds that the Review Board made various errors of law. Leave to seek judicial review was granted on one ground only:

“There is a single arguable question of law here: whether it is open to a Housing Benefit Review Board to make a finding that the current award of income support on which a housing benefit claim is based is vitiated by fraud. The applicant might be well advised to travel no further into the merits.”

On 14 December 1998, Mr Justice Laws concluded that the Board had acted lawfully and therefore rejected the application for judicial review.   The applicant appealed to the Court of Appeal.  On 24 January 2000, the Court of Appeal  dismissed the appeal. Mr Justice Scott Baker, with whom Lords Justices Robert Walker and Henry agreed, concluded that the Review Board had acted lawfully.

COMPLAINTS

The applicant complains under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the lack of independence and impartiality of the Review Board. In addition he complains under Article 6 § 3 (d), about the inability to challenge and question hostile witnesses; under Article 8 about an alleged interference with his right to respect for private life as a result of the Council obtaining personal data; and under Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the Convention about the refusal to pay him housing benefit.

THE LAW

1. Alleged violation of Article 6 § 1

The applicant complains that he did not receive a fair trial in the determination of his civil rights and obligations by the Review Board and that the review by the High Court did not adequately remedy any deficiencies before the Review Board because of the restricted nature of judicial review.

Article 6 § 1 of the Convention provides, so far as relevant, as follows: 

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations....everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing....by an independent and impartial tribunal.”

The Court considers that it cannot, on the basis of the case file, determine the admissibility of this complaint and it is therefore necessary, in accordance with Rule 54 § 3 (b) of the Rules of Court, to give notice of this part of the application to the respondent Government.

2. Alleged violation of Article 6 § 3 (d)

The applicant complains that he was not given an adequate and proper opportunity to challenge and question hostile witnesses. The Court notes that the applicant’s case concerns whether or not he is entitled to housing benefit and as such is not a determination of a “criminal charge.” The Court therefore concludes that Article 6 § (3) (d) is not applicable. However, the requirement of fairness in Article 6 § 1 and the principle of equality of arms embody a right to examine witnesses against one in civil cases. The application has not substantiated this complaint and it does not appear that the raised it during the domestic proceedings. It follows that this aspect of the complaint is manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3, and must therefore be rejected in accordance with Article 35 § 4.

3. Alleged violation of Article 8

The applicant complains that the Council in September 1994 breached Article 8 and committed various criminal offences by accessing the Police National Computer and obtaining personal data about him.

The Court notes that the events complained of took place nearly six years before the applicant complained to the Court. The Court further notes that there is no evidence that the applicant sought to exhaust any domestic remedies in relation to the alleged matters.  It follows that this aspect of the complaint is inadmissible either because the applicant failed to exhaust domestic remedies or because the application was lodged more than six months after the events complained of. It follows that the requirements of Article 35 § 1 are not been complied with and that the application must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 § 4.

4. Alleged violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1

The applicant complains that the refusal to grant him housing benefit violated his rights under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, which states:

“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.”

The Court considers that it cannot, on the basis of the case file, determine the admissibility of this complaint and that it is therefore necessary, in accordance with Rule 54 § 3 (b) of the Rules of Court, to give notice of this part of the application to the respondent Government.

For these reasons, the Court

Decides to join this application to application no. 60860/00.

Decides to adjourn the examination of the applicant’s complaint about the lack of independence and impartiality under Article 6 § 1 and his complaint under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 about the refusal to grant him housing benefit;

Declares inadmissible the remainder of the application.

Michael O’Boyle Matti Pellonpää 
 Registrar President

B.H. v. THE UNITED KINGDOM DECISION


B.H. v. THE UNITED KINGDOM DECISION