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In an important judgment handed down on 15 May 2019, a panel of 7 judges of the Supreme Court considered the appropriate approach to the proportionality test when dealing with claims of unlawful discrimination in breach of Article 14 ECHR and the role of Article 3.1 of the UNCRC.

The judgment concerned two joined appeals raising challenges under Article 14 ECHR (taken with Article 8 ECHR and Article 1 Protocol 1 to the revised benefit cap). By a majority of 5 to 2, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeals and found the legislation to be lawful, on the basis that its impact upon lone parents with children under the age of two, lone parents with children under the age of five, and lone parents generally, was objectively justified.

The Supreme Court held (amongst other things) that:

  1. When assessing justification under Article 14 ECHR for an economic measure introduced by democratically empowered arms of the state, and in particular rules governing entitlement to welfare benefits, the sole question is whether the adverse treatment complained of is ‘manifestly without reasonable foundation.’ On the present appeals it was not.
  2. The interests of the lone parents and their children in the appeals were indistinguishable, and it was relevant, when assessing justification under Article 14 ECHR across each of the claims, to consider whether the government had breached Article 3.1 of the UNCRC. Having regard to the consideration of the interests of children which, in particular during Parliamentary debates, the majority held that Article 3.1 had not been breached.

The judgment is available here.

Simon Pritchard and Shane Sibbel appeared as junior counsel for the Secretary of State.

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