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Possession Proceedings and Human Rights

The Supreme Court has recently handed down its decision in Manchester City Council v Pinnock.

This case concerns whether it is appropriate for a Court to consider Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights when making a possession order.

Article 8 guarantees respect for private and family life (including respect for the home) and prevents interference with this by the state except in accordance with the law and only as “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

While Article 8 cannot apply to private landlords as they are not organs of the state the Courts most certainly are and they are therefore bound by it. Accordingly the decision in Pinnock may be relevant to the private sector even though the Supreme Court took care to state that nothing in their decision “is intended to bear on cases where the person seeking the order for possession is a private landowner”.

So the decision of the Supreme Court is that Article 8 should be taken into account by Courts when dealing with possession actions by local authorities although they stress that it is only in the most exceptional cases where Article 8 would actually have the effect of preventing possession where the domestic law allowed for it. They have not ruled in relation to private landlords and are conscious of the impact of Article 1 of the First Protocol (which prevents deprivation of a person’s possessions except in accordance with law designed to protect the general interest) but this does not mean that they would not rule that Article 8 applied to private landlords if the matter came before them.

This is a worrying development for private landlords. It is undoubtedly the case that consideration will be given by some tenants to advancing an article 8 defence. More particularly it opens up questions about the use of the Accelerated Possession process for section 21 notices and their equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland and particularly about the use of section 21 notices in a ‘retaliatory’ manner where the tenant has complained about disrepair etc.

The battleground for 2011 may just have been set out.

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