IHRC calls for urgent repeal of Section 62 of Housing Act 1966

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC), today, welcomed the settlement reached in a case it supported between a local authority, the State, and an individual with a significant intellectual disability. The settlement will ensure the man is properly housed by the local authority rather than being made homeless. The IHRC granted the man legal assistance to challenge, in the High Court, the decision of the local authority to evict him, and to challenge the respective orders of the District and Circuit Court to grant the local authority possession of the house. The settlement was made before the case was heard by the High Court.

Dr Maurice Manning, President of the IHRC reflecting on the settlement that had been reached, said:



"I am delighted that the IHRC was in a position to provide legal assistance to this individual to vindicate his human rights. The IHRC has repeatedly called for the repeal of the legal provision by which local authorities may summarily evict local authority tenants in the District Court. This legislation is still on the statute book despite clear judgments from the European Court of Human Rights that summary evictions are not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and similar findings being made by our own High Court. This case demonstrates the very real risks that arise from summary evictions, a risk much increased by the present pressures on the civil legal aid system."

In March 2010 the IHRC was approached by a woman, who was concerned that her brother, who has an intellectual disability and other health problems, was about to be evicted from his local authority house on foot of a court order for alleged anti-social behaviour, mostly relating to noise and disturbance to neighbours. The allegations were denied by the man and his sister, who alleged in turn that in fact the man himself was the victim of anti-social behaviour due to his vulnerability living alone in the community with little support from health and social services. The local authority brought proceedings in the District Court and on appeal in the Circuit Court seeking an order for possession of the house. Both the District Court and the Circuit Court refused to adjourn the case until there was a decision regarding the man’s application for legal aid. The man was obliged to represent himself in Court despite having no legal knowledge, a poor grasp of the allegations against him, no understanding how to defend himself and having an obvious intellectual disability.

The High Court proceedings taken by the man, with the support of the IHRC, sought to challenge the constitutional validity of the legislation under which the local authority sought to evict him; legislation already found to be incompatible with the State’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by the High Court. Also by reason of the man’s intellectual and physical disabilities, it was claimed that there was a higher obligation on the State and the local authority to ensure that his human rights were safeguarded in the context of the eviction proceedings. It was argued that the State and the local authority had breached the man’s constitutional rights and rights under the ECHR, by denying him full merits based hearing of the allegations against him in the Courts, including the failure to put in place an adequate legal aid system, such that he was not left unrepresented before the Courts. The man sought to overturn the orders for possession made respectively by the District Court and Circuit Court, and sought declarations that his constitutional rights and rights under the ECHR had been breached by the State, including his right to equality before the law.

Before the proceedings came on for hearing in the High Court the local authority made an offer to the individual concerned, which included providing him with a tenancy of a new house, which was a significant improvement on the house from which he was being evicted. On this basis a settlement was reached between the parties that preserved all the individual’s rights as a local authority tenant, and essentially overturned the decision to evict him. The man and his sister are very much relieved that the threat of eviction has finally been lifted, and hope that no other local authority tenants suffering with disabilities will face the same treatment in the future.

Dr Manning concluded:



"If people with disabilities are not properly supported to live independently, they may be left isolated and vulnerable to having their basic human rights breached through lack of understanding and neglect of their needs, particularly if they have previously lived in institutional care. It is vital that people with intellectual disabilities are supported to live as independently as possible in the community and this is something the IHRC has called for. However this requires that adjustments are made to State services, such as the provision of housing by local authorities and the delivery of adequate support services by the Health Service Executive (HSE)."

ENDS/

A spokesperson is available for comment.

For further information, please contact: Fidelma Joyce, IHRC Tel: 01 8589601, Mob: 087 783 4939

Notes to Editor

Section 10 of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 grants the Commission discretion to grant legal assistance to individuals subject to certain criteria. In this case, legal representation was granted to the individual by the Commission and provided by one of its solicitors.

Section 62 of the Housing Act 1966 ( as amended) has been interpreted by the Courts as requiring a District Court Judge (or a Circuit Court Judge on Appeal), to grant a local authority an order for possession of a local authority dwelling on proof that certain legal formalities have been fulfilled. The legislation does not allow for a full merits based hearing, where the local authority tenant may defend and give evidence in relation to the allegations against him. The legislation has been found to be constitutional on a number of occasions, but was found to be incompatible with the States obligations under the ECHR, pursuant to section 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 in the case of Anthony Donegan v Dublin City Council, Ireland and the Attorney General (2008), Unreported Judgment of Laffoy J delivered on 8 May 2008, and Dublin City Council v Gallagher, (2008) Unreported Judgment of O’Neill J, delivered on 11 November 2008. Both those cases are under appeal to the Supreme Court and a judgment is pending. See also Pullen and others v Dublin City Council (2008) Unreported Judgment of Irvine J, delivered on 13 December 2008.

The IHRC published a policy document in March 2009 entitled IHRC Policy Statement on Section 62 of the Housing Act 1966 for the Recovery of Possession of a Local Authority Dwelling. The policy document recommended, inter alia, that section 62 be repealed with immediate effect.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has recently published its National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011-2016.

 

 

 

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