by John NOWELL
against the United Kingdom
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 7 April 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Lawrence Early, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 1 March 2001,
Having regard to the partial decision of 12 November 2002,
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicant,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr John Nowell, was a British national who was born in 1951 and lived in Kent. He was represented before the Court by Royds Rdw, solicitors in London. The applicant died during the proceedings before this Court. On 21 January 2009 his estate confirmed that it wished to pursue the proceedings The United Kingdom Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr C. Whomersley of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
The applicant’s wife died on 23 May 1996, leaving two dependant children. His claim for widows’ benefits was made in October 2000 and was rejected on 21 April 2001 on the ground that he was not entitled to widows’ benefits because he was not a woman. The applicant did not appeal further as he considered or was advised that such a remedy would be bound to fail since no such social security benefits were payable to widowers under United Kingdom law.
The applicant was in receipt of child benefit at the time of his claim.
B. Relevant domestic law
The domestic law relevant to this application is set out in Willis v. the United Kingdom, no. 36042/97, §§ 14 26, ECHR 2002-IV and Runkee and White v. the United Kingdom, no. 42949/98, §§ 40-41, 25 July 2007.
The applicant complained that British social security legislation discriminated against him on grounds of sex, in breach of Article 14 of the Convention taken in conjunction with both Article 8 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
By a letter of 11 May 2005 the respondent Government informed the Court that the House of Lords had decided, in relation to the claims for Widowed Mother’s Allowance (“WMA”) and Widow’s Payment (“WPt”), that there was in principle no objective justification at the relevant time for not paying these benefits to widowers as well as widows, but that the Government had a defence under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (the HRA). It noted that, in view of this, the multitude of cases before the Court and the fact that the HRA defence was only applicable in the domestic arena, the Government were prepared, in principle, to settle all claims made by widowers against the United Kingdom arising out of the arrangements applicable prior to April 2001 for the payment of WMA and WPt.
By a letter of 5 February 2009 the applicant’s representatives notified the Court that Mr Nowell’s estate had been offered GBP 1,629.61 in respect of the claim for WMA excluding costs, and that the offer was accepted subject to costs being paid in line with previous agreements. On 25 February 2009 the Government offered the applicant’s estate GBP 2,629.61 in respect of the claim for WMA including costs. By a letter of 6 March 2009 the Registry informed the applicant’s legal representatives that since the Government’s offer was in line with previous agreements, the Court would consider that a settlement had been reached unless they objected by 13 March 2009. The applicant’s legal representatives have not objected.
The Court takes note of the friendly settlement reached between the parties in respect of WMA. It is satisfied that the settlement is based on respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols (Article 37 § 1 in fine of the Convention and Rule 62 § 3 of the Rules of Court).
Accordingly, this part of the application should be struck out of the list.
Regarding the claim for WP the Court held in its lead judgment regarding WP that at its origin, and until its abolition in respect of women whose spouses died after 9 April 2001, WP was intended to correct “factual inequalities” between older widows, as a group, and the rest of the population and that this difference in treatment was reasonably and objectively justified. Moreover, the Court considered that the United Kingdom could not be criticised for not having abolished WP earlier and that it was not unreasonable of the legislature to decide to introduce the reform slowly (see Runkee and White, cited above, §§ 40-41). The Court, consequently, considering it was not necessary to examine separately the complaint in respect of Article 8, did not find a violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 in respect of the non-payment to the applicants of WP or equivalent (ibid § 42).
Consequently, this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
In conclusion, therefore, the Court strikes out of its list the applicant’s complaints as regards Widowed Mother’s Allowance and declares inadmissible the applicant’s complaint as regards Widow’s Pension.
Accordingly, and having regard to the above conclusions, Article 29 § 3 of the Convention should no longer apply to the case.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides to strike out of its list of cases the applicant’s complaint about non-entitlement to a Widowed Mother’s Allowance;
Declares inadmissible the remainder of the application.
Lawrence Early Lech Garlicki