Information Note on the Court’s case-law 185
S.S. and Others v. the United Kingdom (dec.) - 40356/10 and 54466/10
Alleged discrimination in entitlement to social security benefits of prisoners in psychiatric care compared to other persons detained for psychiatric treatment: inadmissible
Facts - Under the relevant domestic legislation prisoners were not entitled to social security benefits while serving a prison sentence, including during any periods they were required to spend in psychiatric hospital pursuant to the Mental Health Act 1983. Conversely, persons not sentenced to a term of imprisonment but who were detained for psychiatric treatment either as civil patients under section 3 of the 1983 Act or as an alternative to prison under section 37 of the Act (“section 37 patients”) retained their entitlement to benefits.
The applicants were all convicted and sentenced prisoners who had served, or were serving, part of their sentences in psychiatric hospitals under the relevant provisions of the 1983 Act. In their application to the European Court, they complained that denying them the social security benefits that were paid to other patients being treated under the Act was contrary to Article 14 of the Convention, read in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
Law - Article 14 in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1: It was undisputed that social security benefits fell within the ambit of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 and that the status of prisoner was covered by the term “other status” in Article 14. Article 14 was thus applicable.
(a) Analogous position: The Court reiterated that prisoners did not forfeit their Convention rights in prison, although the manner and extent to which they could enjoy them would inevitably be influenced by the context. Whether or not a prisoner could, for the purposes of Article 14, claim to be in an analogous position to other categories of the population depended on the subject-matter of the complaint. Although the applicants had asserted that the appropriate comparator group in their case was other detained patients, the Court considered that in reality the applicants had significant elements in common both with other patients and other prisoners. While their stay in hospital undoubtedly served a curative purpose, and not a punitive one, as a matter of domestic law they remained under a sentence of imprisonment. Accordingly, even if it was accepted that the applicants were in all other respects under the same legal regime as section 37 patients, the difference between the two groups in terms of criminal-law status could not be regarded as insignificant or irrelevant. Although this did not preclude a comparison with section 37, the applicants’ status as prisoners was “very relevant” to the assessment of compliance with the other requirements of Article 14.
(b) Objective and reasonable justification: The Court accepted as being within the respondent State’s broad margin of appreciation, both as a matter of penal and social policy, the decision to apply a general rule disqualifying convicted prisoners from social security benefits. It followed that the aim of the relevant regulations, which was to apply this exclusionary rule consistently and to correct anomalies, could not be said to be manifestly without reasonable foundation. Fully assimilating the categories of serving prisoners and prisoners transferred to a psychiatric hospital for the purposes of social security could not be said to be lacking in justification, but instead fell within the range of permissible choices open to the domestic authorities.
Nor did the Court discern any failure to respect the requirement of proportionality. The exclusion from entitlement to social security benefits was no broader than necessary, being coterminous with the sentence of imprisonment. In the case of a determinate sentence, those detained beyond what would normally have been the date of release had their entitlements restored, placing them on the same footing as other detained patients. Until such time, the applicants’ essential needs, material and medical, were met in any event and they received an allowance to meet their incidental expenses. No different analysis was called for in respect of the two applicants subject to a life sentence who had already served the minimum term imposed on them.
Accordingly, the difference in treatment complained of did not constitute discrimination contrary to Article 14 of the Convention.
Conclusion: inadmissible (manifestly ill-founded).
(See also Shelley v. the United Kingdom, 23800/06, 4 January 2008, Information Note 104; Clift v. the United Kingdom, 7205/07, 13 July 2010, Information Note 132; and Stummer v. Austria [GC], 37452/02, 7 July 2011, Information Note 143)
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This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.
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