In R (on the application of Bernard) v Enfield London Borough Council (2002), the failure by the council to provide suitably adapted accommodation for the applicant and her family amounted to a violation of her Article 8 rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.
Mrs Bernard and her family lived in a property in the London Borough of Enfield. Mrs Bernard was severely disabled, had limited mobility which required her to use a wheelchair. Assessments of Mrs Bernard’s needs, carried out by Enfield’s social services department, revealed that the property was unsuitable as Mrs Bernard could not use her wheelchair or access the first floor where the bathroom and bedrooms were situated. This was a particular problem as she was incontinent and since there was no wheelchair access to the bathroom she was constantly soiling herself. She had no privacy and could not participate in the rearing of her children.
The Council accepted that it was in breach of its duties under the National Assistance Act 1948, but no action was taken to meet the family’s needs following the initial assessment. Mrs Bernard argued that leaving her in unsuitable accommodation for more than 20 months amounted to a breach of her Article 8 rights (right to respect for family and private life).
This is an important case which demonstrates the court’s willingness to enforce the duty of public authorities to act in compliance with the articles under the Human Rights Act. The court decided that the Council’s failure to act on the assessments amounted to a lack of respect for the claimants’ private and family life. It condemned the claimants to living conditions which made it virtually impossible for them to have any meaningful private or family life as protected by Article 8.
Importantly, Article 8 placed an obligation on the Council to take positive steps, including the provision of suitably adapted accommodation, to enable Mrs Bernard and her family to enjoy their family life. The court said that suitably adapted accommodation was important not only because it would facilitate family life (for example enabling Mrs Bernard to move around her home more freely and help to look after her children) but also because such accommodation would secure her ‘physical and psychological integrity’, which is protected by Article 8 (right to family and private life). The court said “In short it would have restored her dignity as a human being”. The court also awarded Mrs Bernard £10,000 damages under the Human Rights Act.