R (The Motherhood Plan & Anor) v HM Treasury

Court of Appeal: Underhill VP, Baker and Davies LJJ, [2021] EWCA Civ 1703, 24 November 2021

This was an appeal from the refusal of a challenge to the lawfulness of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (“SEISS”) introduced by the government during the first Covid-19 lockdown. The claimants argued that the scheme breaches Article 14 ECHR read with A1P1 by discriminating against self-employed women who took a period of leave relating to maternity or pregnancy in any of the three relevant tax years on which SEISS payments were calculated, this because the level of support granted to them under the scheme was not representative of their usual profits. Whipple J had dismissed the claim having considered the extraordinary pressures under which the scheme was introduced (including the imperative to distribute funds speedily) and the fact that the scheme adopted operated on the basis of data already held by the state. She was not persuaded that the claimants had demonstrated indirect discrimination or Thlimmenos discrimination but proceeded to consider justification, upon which she found against the claimants having adopted the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” approach (the correctness of which had been common ground between the parties).

The claimants appealed on the basis that Whipple J had erred in her approach to indirect discrimination, to Thlimmenos-type discrimination, and to justification. The Court of Appeal (Underhill and Baker LJJ, with whom Davies LJ agreed) agreed that the Judge had misdirected herself as to indirect discrimination by failing properly to take into account the disparate impact of the scheme on women who had taken maternity leave. It found it unnecessary to consider the challenge to the Judge’s application of Thlimmenos and (having considered the decision of the Supreme Court in R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] UKSC 26, [2021] 3 WLR 428 (see previous post) dismissed the appeal on the basis that Whipple J had been entitled to find that any discrimination was justified (further, that it was in fact so justified). The case provides further illustration (see also R (Salvato) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] EWCA Civ 1482 and related post) that  the movement away from the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” test in cases where suspect grounds are in play is by no means a panacea for claimants.

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R (Salvato) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Court of Appeal: Underhill VP, Andrews and Warby LJJ, [2021] EWCA Civ 1482, 13 October 2021

This was an appeal from the decision of the High Court discussed in a previous post. In brief, the High Court (Chamberlain J) ruled that the requirement that the childcare element (CCE) of Universal Credit (UC) could be paid to applicants only after they had actually paid for childcare, rather than becoming liable so to do (“the proof of payment rule”), was unlawful because it discriminated indirectly against women contrary to Article 14 ECHR read with Article 8 and/or A1P1, also because it was irrational. Andrews LJ, with whom Underhill VP and Warby LJ agreed, allowed the Secretary of State’s appeal on both grounds, despite having followed the approach of the Supreme Court in R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] UKSC 26, [2021] 3 WLR 428 (see associated post) to the question of justification. Having stated at §11 that “Much of the Judge’s legal analysis is exemplary”, Andrews LJ concluded nonetheless that “the Judge did fall into material error when he sought to apply the principles he identified to the evidence in this case, and … there are deficiencies in the reasoning which led him to conclude that the Rule was indirectly discriminatory and irrational.” Continue reading

R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Supreme Court [2021] UKSC 26, [2021] 3 WLR 428, 9 July 2021

Lord Reed P, Lord Hodge DP, Lady Black, Lords Lloyd-Jones, Kitchin, Sales and Lord Stephens

This is a very important decision of the Supreme Court concerning a challenge brought under Articles 8 and 12 ECHR, read alone and with Article 14, to the restriction of the individual element of child tax credit to an amount calculated by reference to two children.  The Supreme Court rejected the challenges under Articles 8 and 12 and, of more relevance to this blog, rejected arguments about direct and indirect discrimination against children , though it accepted that there were prima facie cases of sex discrimination and of direct discrimination against children living in households with more than two children, as compared with children living in households with two or fewer children.

The challenge ultimately failed on justification grounds but the case, which has been cited extensively in virtually every Article 14 case heard by the domestic courts since it was decided, is significant because the Court revisited the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” which had been the orthodox approach to Convention challenges to economic/ social policy in the domestic courts since at least 2012.  The case was also significant in that it reimposed an orthodox approach to the treatment of unincorporated international obligations (here the Convention on the Rights of the Child) and included extensive consideration of the reliance which might be placed by the courts on Parliamentary debates and other Parliamentary material when considering whether primary legislation is compatible with Convention rights.

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R (Akbar) v Secretary of the State for Justice

Court of Appeal: Haddon-Cave, Nicola Davies and Nugee LJJ, [2021] EWCA Civ 898 [2021] 4 WLR 94, 15 June 2021

This was an unsuccessful claim brought under Article 14 ECHR read with Article 5 and/or 8 to Rule 7(1A) of the Prison Rules 1999, which prevented the transfer to open conditions of prisoners in respect of whom deportation orders had been made to take effect on release from lengthy prison sentences. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the the Divisional Court (Hickinbottom LJ and Johnson J) essentially on the same grounds as the Divisional Court had relied upon, rejecting the claim that the discrimination in issue was on grounds of nationality (a suspect ground) and applying the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” test, albeit as modified by the Court of Appeal in R (Drexler) v Leicestershire County Council [2020] EWCA Civ 502. Continue reading

R (SH) v Norfolk County Council & Anor

Administrative Court: Griffiths J, [2020] EWHC 3436 (Admin), 18 December 2020

This is a carefully reasoned and lucid decision from Griffiths J on the application of Article 8 and /or A1P1 read with Article 14 ECHR. Continue reading

R (on the application of Caine) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Administrative Court: Julian Knowles J, [2020] EWHC 2482 (Admin), 23 September 2020

The claimant unsuccessfully sought to challenge the calculation of the housing element of Universal Credit (UC) on the basis, inter alia, that it discriminated between weekly and monthly paying tenants. The Judge accepted that the discrimination at issue fell within the scope of A1P1 and was “prepared to assume in the Claimant’s favour that, having regard to the broad approach in … cases [such as R (Stott) v Secretary of State for Justice [2018] UKSC 59, [2018] 3 WLR 1831 and R (DA & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Shelter Children’s Legal Services and others intervening) [2019] UKSC 21, [2019] 1 WLR 3289] that being a weekly tenant is such a status”. In his view, however, that the applicable test for justification in the context of welfare benefit was the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” test had been “authoritatively determined by the Supreme Court’  in DA [65], approving Humphreys v HM Revenue and Customs Commissioners[2012] UKSC 18, [2012] 1 WLR 1545, §§20-22. (Note that the Humphreys approach has been superseded as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court in R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] UKSC 26, [2021] 3 WLR 428 (see later post)). Continue reading

R (Delve & Anor) v SSWP

Court of Appeal: Sir Terence Etherton MR, Underhill VP and Rose LJ, [2020] EWCA Civ 1199, 19 September 2020

The Court of Appeal refused an appeal against the dismissal of a challenge to increases in women’s state pensionable age. The decision is noteworthy for its narrow approach to indirect discrimination, though the Court of Appeal did adopt a more generous approach to comparators than the Divisional Court had done and left open the argument that the MWRF approach to justification has been incorrectly applied by the domestic courts. (Note that the decision in R (DA & Ors) v Secretary of State for Works and Pensions [2019] UKSC 21, [2020] 1 All ER 573 has been superseded by that in R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] UKSC 26, [2021] 3 WLR 428 (see later post), though there is no reason to think that the outcome of this case would have been different if it had postdated SC).

The appeal was brought against a decision of the Divisional Court rejecting a challenge to changes made by a series of Pensions Acts between 1995 and 2014 to state pensionable ages the effect of which was to equalise women’s and men’s state pensionable age at 68 (up from 60 and 65 respectively). The effect of successive changes was to place women born at various times at particular disadvantage in that they had to accommodate significant increases in pensionable age with limited opportunity to mitigate the impact of the changes.

The claimants, two women born in the 1950s whose pensionable age had been increased from 60 to 66, argued that the equalisation of men’s and women’s pensionable ages had outstripped improvements in the economic position of women in their age group who had not been treated equally with men during their working lives and were, as a result, poorer in their early 60s than were men. They claimed that the changes gave rise to direct age discrimination and indirect sex and/or combined sex and age contrary to Article 14 and A1P1, and to direct age and indirect sex discrimination contrary to EU law. They also claimed that the Secretary of State had failed in her duty to notify them far enough in advance of the fact that they would not, as they expected, start receiving their pension at age 60.

The Divisional Court ruled that state pension did not come within the ambit of EU law regulating age discrimination, state pensions further being excluded from the scope of the Equality Directive by Article 3(3) of that Directive. It ruled that the claimants could not compare themselves, for the purposes of the Article 14 age discrimination claim, to women born before them, who were subject to a different legislative regime. In any event, the Divisional Court was satisfied that any discrimination between women of different ages was not MWRF. As regards sex discrimination, the Court ruled that the EU claim was precluded by Article 7(1)(a) of Council Directive 79/7/EEC (the Social Security Directive) which permits Member States to exclude the determination of pensionable age from its scope. Nor, the Court ruled, could the removal of an advantage that had previously existed in favour of women amount to direct discrimination contrary on grounds of sex, or sex and age, contrary to Article 14. There was no indirect discrimination for the purposes of Article 14 because there was no causal link between the measures and the disadvantages accruing to women or to women in this age group and, again, the measures were not MWRF. Finally, the Divisional Court rejected the claim that the claimants should have been given more notice of the changes and ruled that the challenge to the changes imposed by the Pension Act 1995 were over 20 years out of time.

The claimants appealed the Divisional Court’s findings on Article 14 and its decision on indirect (but not direct) discrimination under EU law. The Court of Appeal ruled as follows (this note being concerned only with the discrimination arguments):

As regards the age discrimination claim under Article 14

The argument put for the Secretary of State that the claimants could not compare their treatment with that afforded older women was not accepted, the Court pointing out that the women were discriminated against not only by reason of falling within a different legislative regime, but also because of their dates of birth, which amounted to a “distinguishing criterion based on the[ir] personal status”. Having said this, the Court applied the MWRF for justification and found that there was “no basis for impugning the Divisional Court’s conclusion that the legislation equalising and then raising the state pension age was justified. The Divisional Court were right to approach the issue on the basis that this legislation operates in a field of macro-economic policy where the decision-making power of Parliament is very great” and that general rules such as Parliament was entitled to make would always have the effect that hard cases would arise. The Court of Appeal made reference to the evidence of increased rates of female employment and life expectancy, the international trend towards increasing and equalising state pension ages, the need for Britain to maintain international competitiveness and the increased availability of occupational pensions with equal pensionable ages.

As regards the claim of indirect sex or combined sex and age discrimination under EU law

The prohibition on sex discrimination in Article 4 of the Social Security Directive is (Article 7(1)) “without prejudice to the right of Member States to exclude from its scope (a) the determination of pensionable age for the purposes of granting old-age and retirement pensions and the possible consequences thereof for other benefits”. The claimants’ argument that Article 7 permitted only legislation which temporarily set different state pension ages for men and women was rejected.

As regards the claim of indirect sex or combined sex and age discrimination under Article 14

It was clear from the decision of the Supreme Court in Essop & Ors v Home Office (UK Border Agency) [2017] UKSC 27, [2017] 1 WLR 1343 that indirect discrimination did not require a causal link between the less favourable treatment and the protected characteristic, as distinct from between the measure and the particular disadvantage suffered by the group and the individual. The claimants argued that they were disadvantaged by comparison with men aged between 60 to 66 who, although they were equally ineligible for a pension, and had suffered an increase in pension age (albeit only from 65 to 66), were better able to able to bear that lack of a pension between than were women in the same age group. They sought to rely on the dicta of the ECtHR in JD & A v United Kingdom (App no. 32949/17) [2020] HLR 5 that “indirect discrimination prohibited under art. 14 may arise under circumstances where a policy or measure produces a particularly prejudicial impact on certain persons as a result of a protected ground, such as gender or disability, attaching to this situation”. The Court of Appeal stated at §79 that this attempted reliance on JD would amount to “a significant expansion of the law” and that not “every measure that has that kind of prejudicial effect on a disadvantaged group in society amounts to unlawful discrimination entitling that group to more favourable treatment unless the measure can be justified”. If the Divisional Court had suggested (at §73) that “where the disadvantage suffered by those with a protected characteristic arises from traditions and cultural norms, it does not deserve protection, then we respectfully disagree. Such a conclusion would make a very substantial inroad into the application of anti-discrimination legislation”. But it appeared that the Divisional Court was:

“81 … seeking to express  … that there is no sufficient causal link between the measure and the disadvantage suffered by the women in this case. Even the broad test expressed at [85] of JD and A still states that indirect discrimination exists where a policy or measure produces a particularly prejudicial impact on certain persons as a result of a protected ground, such as gender or disability, attaching to the situation. The Appellants’ argument is that the causal link between the withdrawal of the pension and the protected characteristic is established because (i) the availability of the pension matters more for the wellbeing of disadvantaged members of society than it does for better off people, and (ii) people with a protected characteristic are disproportionately represented in the cohort of disadvantaged people, therefore (iii) it is indirectly discriminatory to deprive them of that benefit even though (iv) the criterion for access to that benefit is equally capable of being satisfied by people with and without that protected characteristic.

82.We do not accept that the causal link needed to establish a claim of indirect discrimination can be satisfied by that chain of reasoning. If it were, then there may well be other groups with a different protected characteristic combined with age who can also show that because they have suffered disadvantage in the work place over the course of their lives, they are more reliant on a state pension than comparator groups and so were adversely affected to a greater degree by the increases in pension age since 1995. To say that it is unlawful not to provide a state pension to every such group would turn the state pension into something which it is not; another means-tested benefit. The state pension is not a means-tested benefit but is linked to payments of national insurance contributions over the course of the claimant’s working life. There are other benefits provided which are means-tested, such as universal credit for those below the state pension age and pension credit for those above. These are the benefits designed to achieve a minimum level of income for poorer people; that is not the function of the state pension.

83. In our judgment, therefore, there is no sufficient causal link here between the withdrawal of the state pension from women in the age group 60 to 65 and the disadvantage caused to that group. The fact that poorer people are likely to experience a more serious adverse effect from the withdrawal of the pension and that groups who have historically been the victims of discrimination in the workplace are more likely to be poor does not make it indirectly discriminatory to apply the same criterion for eligibility to everyone, if that criterion is not more difficult for the group with the protected characteristic to satisfy.”

The Court went on to rule that any indirect discrimination would in any event have been justified on the MWRF approach, rejecting the claimants’ attempt to rely on the decision of the ECtHR in JD and A because (§88) the Court of Appeal was “bound by the Supreme Court’s decision in DA see e.g. R (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020] EWCA Civ 542, [2021] 1 WLR 1151, and “the situation here is precisely the situation that the ECtHR referred to in JD and A as the situation where the MWRF test does apply, namely the effect of transitional measures to correct historical inequalities. This case does not therefore present either the opportunity or the challenge of deciding whether the MWRF test applies outside the scope of welfare benefits or as to the effect of JD and A on the Supreme Court’s decision in DA”.

 

Claimants: Michael Mansfield QC, Henrietta Hill QC, Adam Straw and Keina Yoshida, instructed by
Birnberg Peirce Solicitors

Defendant: James Eadie QC and Julian Milford QC, instructed by The Treasury Solicitor

post modified 15 January 2021

Adiatu & Independent Workers Union of GB v HM Treasury

Divisional Court: Bean LJ and Cavanagh J, [2020] EWHC 1554 (Admin), 15 June 2020

The claimants sought unsuccessfully to challenge the approach taken by the Chancellor to the furlough scheme, arguing in particular that the exclusion of self-employed workers from entitlement to furlough payments and the restriction of payments for non-furloughed workers who could not attend work (because they were symptomatic or self-isolating) to SSP discriminated against self-employed workers contrary to Article 14 EHCR, and indirectly discriminated against women and BAME workers contrary to EU law. They also claimed that the Chancellor had failed to pay regard to the PSED in designing the scheme. Continue reading

R (TD & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Court of Appeal: Singh, Rose and Arnold LJJ, [2020] EWCA Civ 618, 12 May 2020

Note that the decision in R (DA) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2019] UKSC 21; [2019] 1 WLR 3289 is no longer good law as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court in R (SC) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] UKSC 26, [2021] 3 WLR 428 (see later post).

The standard of justification in Article 14 cases concerning welfare benefits has been fixed by the Supreme Court as being the “manifestly without reasonable foundation” (MWRF) test. Attempts to unseat this on the basis that it is inconsistent with the approach of the ECHR where protected characteristics such as sex or disability are concerned (see eg R (Carmichael) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2016] UKSC 58, [2016] 1 WLR 4550) have failed, even the perennially courteous Lord Wilson insisting in R (DA) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2019] UKSC 21; [2019] 1 WLR 3289 that, as regards welfare benefits, “the sole question is whether it is manifestly without reasonable foundation. Let there be no future doubt about it.” This approach may fall to be revisited in light of the ECtHR decision in JD & A v United Kingdom (Applications nos. 32949/17 and 34614/17) [2020] HLR 5, in which that Court confirmed that the MWRF applies to discrimination challenged under Article 14 and A1P1 only in “circumstances where an alleged difference in treatment resulted from a transitional measure forming part of a scheme carried out in order to correct an inequality” (such as in Stec v UK (Applications nos. 65731/01 and 65900/01)(2006) 43 EHRR 47). Meanwhile, the decision of the Court of Appeal in TD indicates that even the MWRF test is capable of being breached. Continue reading