Safety Net

No. 24 of #50cases.

One important role the Human Rights Act plays is as a safety net for vulnerable people. This story is a good example of how it works.

Mrs Bernard suffers from paralysis and uses a wheelchair. She relies on her husband to live. The couple also looks after their six children. The family had been living in their home, which they had owned until they fell behind their mortgages. They had to leave their property and settled down in an accommodation provided by the Borough of Enfield in London. But their new home was not what they had expected. The house, a two-storey terrace, had not been adapted to her severe disabilities: Mrs Bernard could not use the stairs to access the upstairs bedrooms and bathroom. This meant she could only use the downstairs lounge. Because she is also incontinent, this situation meant that she often defecated directly on the lounge’s floor.

This housing situation left the whole family in despair. These issues were raised by her Care Plan, and which ordered the local council to move them into a house adapted to her disability. But the council failed to follow these instructions, even after a court had ordered them to do so. The Bernards’ situation was reviewed by the High Court, which decided that the council had failed them. The council had not provided them with the social services the family was entitled to, and this, the High Court argued, breached their right to lead a normal family life, protected by article 8 of the European Convention. The High Court also awarded the Bernard family £10,000 to compensate for the loss they suffered during this ordeal.

Here, article 8, the right to one’s “private and family life”, protected the rights of a severely disabled person and her family when the local authority had failed them.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here