Chapman v. The United Kingdom (Application no. 27238/95)

Challenge of a decision by UK national authorities that denied a Gypsy family permission to site caravan on land they owned; whether there was a violation of the right to enjoy the best state of physical and mental health; whether there was a violation of the prohibition of discrimination; special obligation regarding vulnerable and minority groups.

Date of the Ruling: 
Jan 18 2001
European Court of Human Rights
Type of Forum: 

Sally Chapman purchased a piece of land in 1985 with the intention of living on it in a caravan. She was refused permission to live on the land by the District Council and was given 15 months to vacate it. She claimed her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated, including Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (violation of prohibition of discrimination). Following an invitation of the President of the Court (according to Art 36 § 2), the European Roma Rights Centre intervened as a third party in the written procedure. The organization referred to international standards regarding the special needs of minorities and other information concerning the position of Roma (i.e. accommodation and general living conditions). Following Buckley v. UK (1996,) the Court ruled by a majority of 10 to 7 that there was no violation of rights under the Convention. The majority accepted that there has been an interference with the enjoyment of a home, as well as with private and family life since what was in issue was a traditional way of life. This way of living includes not only the right to have a certain kind of home but also the right to maintain identity as a Gypsy and lead a life in accordance with that tradition. The Court held that Article 8 implied positive state obligations to facilitate the Gypsy way of life. However, in the present case, it applied the exception of Article 8 (2) that the interference was “necessary in a democratic society”, since the land inhabited by the Gypsy family was the subject of environmental protection and therefore a wide margin of discretion was to be accorded to national authorities in planning issues. An emerging international consensus recognizing the special needs of minorities was not found sufficiently concrete by the Court as to provide guidance for state conduct. The prohibition of discrimination was likewise not violated since any differences in treatment arose on the basis of legitimate aims and any discrimination was proportionate to those aims and had reasonable and objective justification. The minority opinion found that a sufficient consensus for protection of minorities existed and also that the absence of an alternative suitable caravan site for Mrs. Chapman required that the margin of appreciation be more strictly interpreted. 

Keywords: Chapman v. The United Kingdom (Application no. 27238/95), Housing, Right

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

The Chapman case was one of five similar cases (see Thomas and Jessica Coster v. UK, John and Catherine Beard v. UK, Jane Smith v. UK, Thomas Lee v. UK) decided in the same manner. A later case, Varey v. UK, was settled before it reached the Court. Gypsy families in the UK have increasingly purchased their own land to site their caravans due to the ongoing failure of local authorities to fulfill their legislative obligations to provide sufficient caravan sites. The “Traveller Law Reform Project” (successor of the “Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition”) introduced an E-Petition which can be signed until February 11th, 2008. The petition seeks to ensure the same security of tenure for Gypsies and Travellers on their sites as is enjoyed by local authority tenants in houses or flats and non-Traveller residents of mobile home parks.

Groups involved in the case: 

Claimant: Sally Chapman Claimants Advocate: Diana Allen (formerly practicing at Lance Kent & Co) The Grey House Kitsbury Road, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, HP4 3Ea Tel: 0044 1442 879628 or 0044 1442 865212 Intervener: European Roma Rights Centre H- 386 Budapest, PO Box 906/93 Hungary Tel: 0036 1 4132200 Fax: 0036 1 4132201 Defendant: British state

Significance of the Case: 

The Court recognizes a possible future consensus amongst the member States of the Council of Europe regarding the special needs of minorities and an obligation to protect their security, identity and lifestyle, which may lead to a different outcome in a similar case. There have been a number of important developments in this area. In 1998 the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance issued a General Policy Recommendation (No. 3) combating Racism and Intolerance against Roma/Gypsies. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) issued its “Report on the Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area” (2000) and following that an “OSCE Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE area” (2003). The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by the Council of Europe binds the signatory states to submit a report to the Council of Europe containing "full information on the legislative and other measures taken to give effect to the principles set out in this framework Convention" (Article 25). All these developments point to a  consensus among European states regarding the special needs of minority groups.