Judgments - Ghaidan (Appellant) v. Godin-Mendoza (FC) (Respondent)

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    31.  On this the first point to be considered is how far, when enacting section 3, Parliament intended that the actual language of a statute, as distinct from the concept expressed in that language, should be determinative. Since section 3 relates to the 'interpretation' of legislation, it is natural to focus attention initially on the language used in the legislative provision being considered. But once it is accepted that section 3 may require legislation to bear a meaning which departs from the unambiguous meaning the legislation would otherwise bear, it becomes impossible to suppose Parliament intended that the operation of section 3 should depend critically upon the particular form of words adopted by the parliamentary draftsman in the statutory provision under consideration. That would make the application of section 3 something of a semantic lottery. If the draftsman chose to express the concept being enacted in one form of words, section 3 would be available to achieve Convention-compliance. If he chose a different form of words, section 3 would be impotent.

    32.  From this the conclusion which seems inescapable is that the mere fact the language under consideration is inconsistent with a Convention-compliant meaning does not of itself make a Convention-compliant interpretation under section 3 impossible. Section 3 enables language to be interpreted restrictively or expansively. But section 3 goes further than this. It is also apt to require a court to read in words which change the meaning of the enacted legislation, so as to make it Convention-compliant. In other words, the intention of Parliament in enacting section 3 was that, to an extent bounded only by what is 'possible', a court can modify the meaning, and hence the effect, of primary and secondary legislation.

    33.  Parliament, however, cannot have intended that in the discharge of this extended interpretative function the courts should adopt a meaning inconsistent with a fundamental feature of legislation. That would be to cross the constitutional boundary section 3 seeks to demarcate and preserve. Parliament has retained the right to enact legislation in terms which are not Convention-compliant. The meaning imported by application of section 3 must be compatible with the underlying thrust of the legislation being construed. Words implied must, in the phrase of my noble and learned friend Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, 'go with the grain of the legislation'. Nor can Parliament have intended that section 3 should require courts to make decisions for which they are not equipped. There may be several ways of making a provision Convention-compliant, and the choice may involve issues calling for legislative deliberation.

    34.  Both these features were present in In re S (Minors)(Care Order: Implementation of Care Plan) [2002] 2 AC 291. There the proposed 'starring system' was inconsistent in an important respect with the scheme of the Children Act 1989, and the proposed system had far-reaching practical ramifications for local authorities. Again, in R (Anderson) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] 1 AC 837 section 29 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 could not be read in a Convention-compliant way without giving the section a meaning inconsistent with an important feature expressed clearly in the legislation. In Bellinger v Bellinger [2003] 2 AC 467 recognition of Mrs Bellinger as female for the purposes of section 11(c) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 would have had exceedingly wide ramifications, raising issues ill-suited for determination by the courts or court procedures.

    35.  In some cases difficult problems may arise. No difficulty arises in the present case. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the Rent Act 1977 is unambiguous. But the social policy underlying the 1988 extension of security of tenure under paragraph 2 to the survivor of couples living together as husband and wife is equally applicable to the survivor of homosexual couples living together in a close and stable relationship. In this circumstance I see no reason to doubt that application of section 3 to paragraph 2 has the effect that paragraph 2 should be read and given effect to as though the survivor of such a homosexual couple were the surviving spouse of the original tenant. Reading paragraph 2 in this way would have the result that cohabiting heterosexual couples and cohabiting heterosexual couples would be treated alike for the purposes of succession as a statutory tenant. This would eliminate the discriminatory effect of paragraph 2 and would do so consistently with the social policy underlying paragraph 2. The precise form of words read in for this purpose is of no significance. It is their substantive effect which matters.

    36.  For these reasons I agree with the decision of the Court of Appeal. I would dismiss this appeal.


My Lords,

    37.  In my view the Court of Appeal came to the correct conclusion. I agree with the conclusions and reasons of my noble and learned friends Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry and Baroness Hale of Richmond. In the light of those opinions, I will not comment on the case generally.

    38.  I confine my remarks to the question whether it is possible under section 3(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 to read and give effect to paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 1 to the Rent Act 1977 in a way which is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. In my view the interpretation adopted by the Court of Appeal under section 3(1) was a classic illustration of the permissible use of this provision. But it became clear during oral argument, and from a subsequent study of the case law and academic discussion on the correct interpretation of section 3(1), that the role of that provision in the remedial scheme of the 1998 Act is not always correctly understood. I would therefore wish to examine the position in a general way.

    39.  I attach an appendix to this opinion which lists cases where a breach of an ECHR right was found established, and the courts proceeded to consider whether to exercise their interpretative power under section 3 or to make a declaration of incompatibility under section 4. For the first and second lists (A and B) I am indebted to the Constitutional Law Division of the Department of Constitutional Affairs but law report references and other information have been added. The third list (C) has been prepared by Laura Johnson, my judicial assistant, under my direction. It will be noted that in 10 cases the courts used their interpretative power under section 3 and in 15 cases the courts made declarations of incompatibility under section 4. In five cases in the second group the declarations of incompatibility were subsequently reversed on appeal: in four of those cases it was held that no breach was established and in the fifth case (Hooper) the exact basis for overturning the declaration of incompatibility may be a matter of debate. Given that under the 1998 Act the use of the interpretative power under section 3 is the principal remedial measure, and that the making of a declaration of incompatibility is a measure of last resort, these statistics by themselves raise a question about the proper implementation of the 1998 Act. A study of the case law reinforces the need to pose the question whether the law has taken a wrong turning.

    40.  My impression is that two factors are contributing to a misunderstanding of the remedial scheme of the 1998 Act. First, there is the constant refrain that a judicial reading down, or reading in, under section 3 would flout the will of Parliament as expressed in the statute under examination. This question cannot sensibly be considered without giving full weight to the countervailing will of Parliament as expressed in the 1998 Act.

    41.  The second factor may be an excessive concentration on linguistic features of the particular statute. Nowhere in our legal system is a literalistic approach more inappropriate than when considering whether a breach of a Convention right may be removed by interpretation under section 3. Section 3 requires a broad approach concentrating, amongst other things, in a purposive way on the importance of the fundamental right involved.

    42.  In enacting the 1998 Act Parliament legislated "to bring rights home" from the European Court of Human Rights to be determined in the courts of the United Kingdom. That is what the White Paper said: see Rights Brought Home: The Human Rights Bill (1997) (cm 3782), para 2.7. That is what Parliament was told. The mischief to be addressed was the fact that Convention rights as set out in the ECHR, which Britain ratified in 1951, could not be vindicated in our courts. Critical to this purpose was the enactment of effective remedial provisions.

    43.  The provisions adopted read as follows:

    "3. Interpretation of legislation

    (1)  So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights.

    (2)  This section -

    (a)  applies to primary legislation and subordinate legislation whenever enacted;

    (b)  does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of any incompatible primary legislation; and

    (c)  does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of any incompatible subordinate legislation if (disregarding any possibility of revocation) primary legislation prevents removal of the incompatibility.

    4. Declaration of incompatibility

    (1)  Subsection (2) applies in any proceedings in which a court determines whether a provision of primary legislation is compatible with a Convention right.

    (2)  If the court is satisfied that the provision is incompatible with a Convention right, it may make a declaration of that incompatibility.

    (3) - (6)."

If Parliament disagrees with an interpretation by the courts under section 3(1), it is free to override it by amending the legislation and expressly reinstating the incompatibility.

    44.  It is necessary to state what section 3(1), and in particular the word "possible", does not mean. First, section 3(1) applies even if there is no ambiguity in the language in the sense of it being capable of bearing two possible meanings. The word "possible" in section 3(1) is used in a different and much stronger sense. Secondly, section 3(1) imposes a stronger and more radical obligation than to adopt a purposive interpretation in the light of the ECHR. Thirdly, the draftsman of the Act had before him the model of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act which imposes a requirement that the interpretation to be adopted must be reasonable. Parliament specifically rejected the legislative model of requiring a reasonable interpretation.

    45.  Instead the draftsman had resort to the analogy of the obligation under the EEC Treaty on national courts, as far as possible, to interpret national legislation in the light of the wording and purpose of directives. In Marleasing SA v La Comercial Internacional de Alimentación SA (Case C-106/89) [1990] ECR I-4135, 4159 the European Court of Justice defined this obligation as follows:

    "It follows that, in applying national law, whether the provisions in questions were adopted before or after the directive, the national court called upon to interpret it is required to do so, as far as possible, in light of the wording and the purpose of the directive in order to achieve the result pursued by the latter and thereby comply with the third paragraph of Article 189 of the Treaty"

Given the undoubted strength of this interpretative obligation under EEC law, this is a significant signpost to the meaning of section 3(1) in the 1998 Act.

    46.  Parliament had before it the mischief and objective sought to be addressed, viz the need "to bring rights home". The linch-pin of the legislative scheme to achieve this purpose was section 3(1). Rights could only be effectively brought home if section 3(1) was the prime remedial measure, and section 4 a measure of last resort. How the system modelled on the EEC interpretative obligation would work was graphically illustrated for Parliament during the progress of the Bill through both Houses. The Lord Chancellor observed that "in 99% of the cases that will arise, there will be no need for judicial declarations of incompatibility" and the Home Secretary said "We expect that, in almost all cases, the courts will be able to interpret the legislation compatibly with the Convention": Hansard (HL Debates,) 5 February 1998, col 840 (3rd reading) and Hansard (HC Debates,) 16 February 1998, col 778 (2nd reading). It was envisaged that the duty of the court would be to strive to find (if possible) a meaning which would best accord with Convention rights. This is the remedial scheme which Parliament adopted.

    47.  Three decisions of the House can be cited to illustrate the strength of the interpretative obligation under section 3(1). The first is R v A (No. 2) [2002] 1 AC 45 which concerned the so-called rape shield legislation. The problem was the blanket exclusion of prior sexual history between the complainant and an accused in section 41(1) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, subject to narrow specific categories in the remainder of section 41. In subsequent decisions, and in academic literature, there has been discussion about differences of emphasis in the various opinions in A. What has been largely overlooked is the unanimous conclusion of the House. The House unanimously agreed on an interpretation under section 3 which would ensure that section 41 would be compatible with the ECHR. The formulation was by agreement set out in paragraph 46 of my opinion in that case as follows:

    "The effect of the decision today is that under section 41(3)(c) of the 1999 Act, construed where necessary by applying the interpretive obligation under section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, and due regard always being paid to the importance of seeking to protect the complainant from indignity and from humiliating questions, the test of admissibility is whether the evidence (and questioning in relation to it) is nevertheless so relevant to the issue of consent that to exclude it would endanger the fairness of the trial under article 6 of the Convention. If this test is satisfied the evidence should not be excluded."

This formulation was endorsed by Lord Slynn of Hadley at p 56, para 13 of his opinion in identical wording. The other Law Lords sitting in the case expressly approved the formulation set out in para 46 of my opinion: Lord Hope of Craighead, at pp 87-88, para 110, Lord Clyde, at p 98, para 140; and Lord Hutton, at p 106, para 163. In so ruling the House rejected linguistic arguments in favour of a broader approach. In the subsequent decisions of the House in In re S (Minors) (Care Order: Implementation of Case Plan) [2002] 2 AC 291 and Bellinger v Bellinger [2003] 2 AC 467, which touched on the remedial structure of the 1998 Act, the decision of the House in the case of A was not questioned. And in the present case nobody suggested that A involved a heterodox exercise of the power under section 3.

    48.  The second and third decisions of the House are Pickstone v Freemans plc [1989] AC 66 and Litster v Forth Dry Dock & Engineering Co Ltd [1990] 1 AC 546 which involve the interpretative obligation under EEC law. Pickstone concerned section 1(2) of the Equal Pay Act 1970, (as amended by section 8 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and regulation 2 of the Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations 1983 (SI 1983/1794) which implied into any contract without an equality clause one that modifies any term in a woman's contract which is less favourable than a term of a similar kind in the contract of a man:

    "(a)  where the woman is employed on like work with a man in the same employment …

    (b)  where the woman is employed on work rated as equivalent with that of a man in the same employment . . .

    (c)  where a woman is employed on work which, not being work in relation to which paragraph (a) or (b) above applies, is, in terms of the demands made on her (for instance under such headings as effort, skill and decision), of equal value to that of a man in the same employment".

Lord Templeman observed (at pp 120-121):

    "In my opinion there must be implied in paragraph (c) after the word 'applies' the words 'as between the woman and the man with whom she claims equality.' This construction is consistent with Community law. The employers' construction is inconsistent with Community law and creates a permitted form of discrimination without rhyme or reason."

That was the ratio decidendi of the decision. Litster concerned regulations intended to implement an EC Directive, the purpose of which was to protect the workers in an undertaking when its ownership was transferred. However, the regulations only protected those who were employed "immediately before" the transfer. Having enquired into the purpose of the Directive, the House of Lords interpreted the Regulations by reading in additional words to protect workers not only if they were employed "immediately before" the time of transfer, but also when they would have been so employed if they had not been unfairly dismissed by reason of the transfer: see Lord Keith of Kinkel, at 554. In both cases the House eschewed linguistic arguments in favour of a broad approach. Picksone and Litster involved national legislation which implemented EC Directives. Marleasing extended the scope of the interpretative obligation to unimplemented Directives. Pickstone and Litster reinforce the approach to section 3(1) which prevailed in the House in the rape shield case.

    49.  A study of the case law listed in the Appendix to this judgment reveals that there has sometimes been a tendency to approach the interpretative task under section 3(1) in too literal and technical a way. In practice there has been too much emphasis on linguistic features. If the core remedial purpose of section 3(1) is not to be undermined a broader approach is required. That is, of course, not to gainsay the obvious proposition that inherent in the use of the word "possible" in section 3(1) is the idea that there is a Rubicon which courts may not cross. If it is not possible, within the meaning of section 3, to read or give effect to legislation in a way which is compatible with Convention rights, the only alternative is to exercise, where appropriate, the power to make a declaration of incompatibility. Usually, such cases should not be too difficult to identify. An obvious example is R (Anderson) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] 1 AC 837. The House held that the Home Secretary was not competent under article 6 of the ECHR to decide on the tariff to be served by mandatory life sentence prisoners. The House found a section 3(1) interpretation not "possible" and made a declaration under section 4. Interpretation could not provide a substitute scheme. Bellinger is another obvious example. As Lord Rodger of Earlsferry observed ". . . in relation to the validity of marriage, Parliament regards gender as fixed and immutable": [2003] 2 WLR 1174, 1195, para 83. Section 3(1) of the 1998 Act could not be used.

    50.  Having had the opportunity to reconsider the matter in some depth, I am not disposed to try to formulate precise rules about where section 3 may not be used. Like the proverbial elephant such a case ought generally to be easily identifiable. What is necessary, however, is to emphasise that interpretation under section 3(1) is the prime remedial remedy and that resort to section 4 must always be an exceptional course. In practical effect there is a strong rebuttable presumption in favour of an interpretation consistent with Convention rights. Perhaps the opinions delivered in the House today will serve to ensure a balanced approach along such lines.

    51.  I now return to the circumstances of the case before the House. Applying section 3 the Court of Appeal interpreted "as his or her wife or husband" in the statute to mean "as if they were his wife or husband". While there has been some controversy about aspects of the reasoning of the Court of Appeal, I would endorse the reasoning of the Court of Appeal on the use of section 3(1) in this case. It was well within the power under this provision.

    52.  I would also dismiss the appeal.


to the opinion of Lord Steyn

A.  Declarations of incompatibility made under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998

CaseRelevant ECHR provision Provision declared incompatible
R (H) v London North and East Region Mental Health Review Tribunal (Secretary of State for Health intervening) [2002] QB 1

Articles 5(1) and 5(4)

Mental Health Act 1983 s. 73
International Transport Roth GmbH v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] QB 728 Article 6 and Protocol 1 article 1 Penalty Scheme contained in Part II of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
R v McR (2002) NIQB 58 unreported except on the Northern Ireland Court Service website. Article 8 Offences Against the Person Act 1861 s. 62
R (Wilkinson) v Commissioners of Inland Revenue [2002] STC 347, upheld by the Court of Appeal [2003] 1 WLR 2683 Article 14 when read in conjunction with Protocol 1 article 1 Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988 s. 262
R (Anderson) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] 1 AC 837 Article 6(1) Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 s.29
R (D) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] 1 WLR 1315 Article 5(4) Mental Health Act 1983 s. 74
Blood and Tarbuck v Secretary of State for Health
    Declaration by consent
Article 8 and/or article 8 when read with article 14 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 s. 28(6)(b)
Bellinger v Bellinger [2003] 2 AC 467 Article 8 and article 12 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 s. 11(c)
R (on the application of FM) v Secretary of State for Health [2003] ACD 389 Article 8 Mental Health Act 1983 ss. 26(1) and 29
R (Uttley) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] 1 WLR 2590 Article 7 Criminal Justice Act 1991 ss. 33(2), 37(4)(a) and s. 39

B.  Declarations of incompatibility overturned on appeal

Case ECHR provisionProvision declared incompatibleOverturned:
Court, Date and Reason
R (Alconbury Developments Ltd) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions [2003] 2 AC 295 Article 6(1) Ss. 77, 78, 79 and paragraphs 3 and 4 of Schedule 6 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990; ss. 1, 3 and 23(4) of the Transport and Works Act 1992;
ss. 14(3)(a), 16(5)(a), 18(3)(a), 125 and paragraphs 1, 7 and 8 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Highways Act 1980; s. 2 (3) and paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Acquisition of Land Act 1981.
House of Lords
9 May 2001

No incompatibility with Article 6(1)
Wilson v First County Trust (No 2) [2004] 1 AC 816 Article 6(1) and article 1 Protocol 1 Consumer Credit Act 1974 s. 127(3) House of Lords
10 July 2003
S.3(1) and s. 4 did not apply to causes of action accruing before the HRA 1998 came into force.
Matthews v Ministry of Defence [2003] 1 AC 1163 Article 6(1) Crown Proceedings Act 1947 s. 10 Court of Appeal 29 May 2002 ([2002] 1 WLR 2621) and upheld on appeal by the House of Lords 13 February 2003.
The claimant had no civil right to which article 6 might apply.
R (Hooper) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2003] 1WLR 2623 Article 14 read together with article 8 Social Security Contributions and Benefit Act 1992 ss. 36 and 37 The Court of Appeal
18 June 2003
Leave to appeal to the House of Lords granted
A v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] QB 335 Article 5(1) Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 s. 23 The Court of Appeal 25 October 2002
No incompatibility with the Convention.

C.  Interpretations under s. 3(1)

Case ECHR provision Provision in issue Interpretation adopted
R v Offen [2001] 1 WLR 253, CA Articles 3, 5, 7

Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (c43), s. 2 The imposition of an automatic life sentence as required by s. 2 could be disproportionate if the defendant poses no risk to the public, thereby breaching articles 3 and 5. The phrase "exceptional circumstances" was to be given a less restrictive interpretation.
R v A (No 2) [2002] 1 AC 45 Article 6 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 s. 41 Prior sexual contact between the complainant and the defendant could be relevant to the issue of consent. The blanket exclusion of this evidence in s. 41 was disproportionate. By applying s. 3, the test of admissibility was whether the evidential material was so relevant to the issue of consent that to exclude it would endanger the fairness of the trial under article 6.

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