Judgments - AL (Serbia) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department R (on the application of Rudi) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department

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26.  Thirdly, of course, the difference of treatment has to be on a prohibited ground. Article 14 does not purport to challenge all possible classifications and distinctions made by the law or government policy. The list of prohibited grounds is long and open-ended, but it must be there for a purpose and cannot therefore be endless: see R (S) v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police [2004] UKHL 39, [2004] 1 WLR 2196; and further in R (Clift) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2006] UKHL 54, [2007] 1 AC 484. In general, the list concentrates on personal characteristics which the complainant did not choose and either cannot or should not be expected to change. The Carson case is therefore unusual, because it concerned discrimination on the ground of habitual residence, which is a matter of personal choice and can be changed.

27.  There are, also, as Lord Walker recognised in Carson, dangers in regarding differences between two people, which are inherent in a prohibited ground and cannot or should not be changed, as meaning that the situations are not analogous. For example, it would be no answer to a claim of sex discrimination to say that a man and a woman are not in an analogous situation because one can get pregnant and the other cannot. This is something that neither can be expected to change. If it is wrong to discriminate between them as individuals, it is wrong to focus on the personal characteristics which are inherent in their protected status to argue that their situations are not analogous. That is the essential reason why, in Ghaidan v Godin-Mendoza [2004] UKHL 30, [2004] 2 AC 557, the argument that same sex couples were not in an analogous position to opposite sex couples, because they could not have children together, did not succeed.

28.  I say all this because so much argument has been devoted in this case, and in too many others, to identifying the precise characteristics of the persons with whom these two young men should be compared. This is an arid exercise. They complain that they, who arrived here as children without their families and are still without their families, have been treated differently from other people who arrived here as children with their families and are still with their families. That is obviously correct. It matters little whether this is described as being “parentless and childless” (as the appellants would have it) or as “not being part of a family unit” (as the Secretary of State would now have it). It is common ground that their condition, however described, falls within the residuary category of “other status” for the purposes of article 14.

29.  What does matter is whether this condition falls within the class for which “very weighty reasons” are required if a difference in treatment is to be justified. Thus, for example, Strasbourg has said that where a “difference of treatment is based on race, colour or ethnic origin, the notion of objective and reasonable justification must be interpreted as strictly as possible” (DH v Czech Republic [2007] ECHR 922, App No 57325/00, Judgment of 13 November 2007, para 196), while “very convincing and weighty” reasons are required to justify a difference in treatment based on sex (eg Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali v United Kingdom (1985) 7 EHRR 471, para 78), or sexual orientation (eg EB v France [2008] ECHR 55, app no 43546/02, 22 January 2008, para 91), or birth or adopted status (eg Inze v Austria (1987) 10 EHRR 394, para 41; Pla v Andorra (2004) 42 EHRR 522, para 61), or nationality (eg Gaygusuz v Austria (1996) 23 EHRR 364, para 42).

30.  It is obvious that discrimination on some grounds is easier to justify than others. In Carson, at paras 15-17, Lord Hoffmann explained that some grounds of distinction are so offensive to “our notions of respect due to the individual” that they are seldom if ever acceptable grounds for differences in treatment. The mere fact that it might be rational to distinguish, for example, between men and women because most women are not as strong as most men, is not sufficient to justify assuming that all women are weaker than all men, and thus refusing to consider the individual woman on her merits. He went on to say that other grounds of distinction do not fall within this “suspect” category. They usually depend upon considerations of the general public interest and might only require some rational explanation. And some grounds of discrimination might fall on the borderline between the two.

31.  However, as Lord Walker pointed out (at para 55), the doctrine of “suspect” grounds is drawn from the United States’ jurisprudence, although something similar is to be found in Strasbourg. But there are important differences between the 14th Amendment and article 14 which mean that it cannot simply be transplanted to the European situation. The American jurisprudence has had to devise a hierarchy of classifications because of the completely open-ended text of the 14th amendment. It applies to all the laws and to all types of classification. The courts have had to find some way of separating off the type of law, together with the type of classification, for which no more than a rational explanation is required. Even so, the Americans have always subjected differences in treatment in respect of fundamental rights to closer scrutiny than differences in treatment in other areas of the law. Furthermore, their ideas of what amounts to a “suspect class” are not identical to the grounds of discrimination for which particularly weighty justification is required by Strasbourg: sex, for example, is in an intermediate class. The Strasbourg grounds, largely focussing on the personal characteristics of the individual which he cannot or should not be asked to change, are more likely to require more than just a rational explanation. Nor has Strasbourg ever substituted a simple “rational explanation” test for the proportionality test which has been its “clear and consistent jurisprudence” since first articulated in the Belgian Linguistics case.

32.  Mr Rabinder Singh QC, on behalf of Mr AL, argues that being parentless or without a family requires very weighty reasons to justify a difference in treatment. Being without a family may not be immutable, like sex and race, but it is something over which the young person has no control. There is quite a close, though not exact, analogy between the state of being without parents in fact and the status of being without parents in law. Birth status has long been recognised as a prohibited ground under article 14 (Marckx v Belgium (1979) 2 EHRR 330) and particularly weighty reasons are needed to justify any discrimination, either against the child (Inze v Austria (1987) 10 EHRR 394) or the father (Sahin v Germany (2001) 36 EHRR 765, [2003] 2 FLR 671, para 57). If anything, children who arrived here without a family required more protection than those who arrived with the support of their families. International law recognises that children who are separated from their families need special protection. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), article 2(2) prohibits discrimination on the basis of, among other things, the birth or other status of the child or his family; the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasised that this prohibits any discrimination on the basis of the status of the child being unaccompanied or separated (General Comment No 6, 2005); UNCRC article 22 requires appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights for all asylum-seeking children, whether or not accompanied.

33.  The United Kingdom does, of course, have special policies designed to cater for the special needs of unaccompanied asylum- seeking children. In some respects they may be better treated than children who arrive here with their families. This can be justified, as the Strasbourg court explained in Stec v United Kingdom (2006) 43 EHRR 1017, at para 51:

“Article 14 does not prohibit a Member State from treating groups differently in order to correct ‘factual inequalities’ between them; indeed in certain circumstances a failure to attempt to correct inequality through different treatment may in itself give rise to a breach of the article (see Belgian Linguistics Case (No 2) (1968) 1 EHRR 252, para 10; Thlimmenos v Greece, (2000) 31 EHRR 411, para 44).”

34.  I am quite prepared to accept that, in certain circumstances, a difference in treatment between children who did or did not have parents to look after them, unless designed to correct the factual inequalities between them, would require particularly careful scrutiny. To deny a benefit to a child whose parents were dead, had disappeared, or were incapable of looking after him, which was available to a child who had parents available to look after him, might be very hard indeed to justify. Not all asylum-seeking children fall into this category. Some do have parents who may be traced and their children reunited with them in due course. But we are assuming for the sake of argument that that is not the case here. Had this policy discriminated between the children while they were children it would have been particularly hard to justify.

35.  What difference does it make that the complaint is that the policy discriminates, not between children, but between young adults? On the one hand, the special care and protection which all children both need and deserve is in general no longer needed once they have grown up. On the other hand, the status which differentiates them, that of being without parents or family, remains with them for life (or until their parents can be found), just as does the status of being illegitimate or adopted. But it is not one which has so far been recognised as requiring particularly weighty reasons if a difference in treatment is to be justified.

Reasons for the policy

36.  Against this background, it is necessary to turn to the reasons put forward for this policy. One point should be made at the outset. The fact that the policy was a special favour, going beyond anything which the state might be required to do to respect the rights protected by article 8 of the Convention, makes no difference. This was the whole point of the decision in Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali v United Kingdom (1985) 7 EHRR 471, where it was said, in para 82:

“The notion of discrimination within the meaning of article 14 includes in general cases where a person or group is treated, without proper justification, less favourably than another, even though the more favourable treatment is not called for by the Convention.”

37.  The object of the exercise (according to the evidence of Mr Ponsford, a senior policy officer in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate) was “to relieve the administrative and financial burden on the Home Office which had arisen due to (a) the large growth in asylum applications in preceding years and (b) a backlog in the removal of unsuccessful cases.” Hence there was a need to “clear the decks” so that cases might be dealt with more efficiently in future. This must in principle be capable of being a legitimate aim for any administrative system.

38.  But the issue is not whether some exercise of this sort might be justified, but whether this particular exercise, selecting some people for more favourable treatment than others, could be justified. It is, as Lord Bingham of Cornhill reminded us in A and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] UKHL 56, [2005] 2 AC 68, at para 68, the discriminatory effect of the measure which must be justified, not the measure itself. There were several reasons for singling out these families. One was to save public money directly. Most of them were being supported at public expense, either through local authorities or through the National Asylum Support Service. If given leave to stay, the parents could find work and support their families. Another was to save public money less directly, through avoiding the costs associated with determining claims, resisting appeals and enforcing removal. The removal of families “places a particularly heavy administrative and financial burden on the Home Office and is generally considerably more difficult to achieve than the removal of an individual". This was because, under the law as it applied to the families in this group, other family members might make individual claims after the principal claim had been rejected. These could take a long time to dispose of and it was the practice only to remove the whole family group together. There were also particular difficulties associated with detaining family groups with children before their removal from the country.

39.  These reasons related to the particular difficulties of enforcement against family groups and therefore the particular contribution which they could make to the overall aim of the exercise. But there were also compassionate reasons for adopting it. The families had been here for some time, the children would have made friends and been settled in schools, and they would all have developed ties with the local community. As the Home Secretary said when announcing the policy, “MPs from all sides appeal to me for such families to be allowed to stay in the UK every week".

40.  To include unaccompanied minors in the exercise, on the other hand, would bring none of the above cost savings and administrative benefits. They had to be supported until the age of 18 in any event, so there would be no direct saving in giving them leave. They could not make serial claims. They could be removed as young single adults having reached the age of 18 without any of the special problems attached to removing families with children. The Secretary of State did acknowledge that those who arrived here as unaccompanied minors might have strong compassionate grounds for seeking leave to remain, but insisted that these could be considered on their individual merits rather than as part of the one-off exercise.

41.  Mr Andrew Nicol QC, who appears for Mr Rudi, argues that these factors cannot provide a rational explanation for the extension of the policy to family groups containing young adults who reached 18 between 2 October 2000 and 24 October 2003. A young adult if granted leave to remain would also be able to find work and support himself, as indeed both these young men had done until Mr Rudi was prohibited from doing so pending his removal. A young adult could also be removed separately from the rest of the family without causing the problems associated with trying to remove the whole family together. The article 8 claims of adult family members are nowhere near as strong as those of husbands and wives or parents and children. The reluctance to detain families with children before removal did not apply to young adults. The compassionate factors might be just as strong for both groups. Hence if the Secretary of State was prepared to extend the policy to family groups containing young adults who had arrived as children, he should have been prepared to extend it to young adults without a family who had also arrived as children.

42.  Mr Nicol made these points in support of his argument that the policy as it applied to young adults was both irrational on ordinary judicial review principles and contrary to the common law principle that like cases must be treated alike: see Matadeen v Pointu [1999] 1 AC 98. Given, however, that the justification advanced for a difference in treatment covered by article 14 must be “objective and reasonable", it is difficult to see what the common law adds to the Convention in a case where it is accepted that article 14 is engaged.


43.  Like so many equality issues, the issue is relatively easy to state but not at all easy to answer. Instinctively one feels that to treat two young men so very differently, because one arrived here as a child with his family and one did not, has to be wrong. It would of course be different if the one who had arrived here without his family now had a family to whom he could return. However, given that he does not, it might be thought that, if either deserved more favourable treatment, it should be the one who lacks the emotional and material support which we all hope to have from our own families even after we have turned 18. If the aim of the policy had been to select the most deserving cases for special treatment, then the difference would have been difficult to explain, let alone to justify.

44.  However, that was not the principal aim of the exercise. The overall aim was to “clear the decks", to reduce the back-log so as to make the system more efficient in the future. It is accepted that this was a legitimate aim, albeit a strictly pragmatic one. The easiest way to do this would have been to choose a neutral criterion, such as the date on which the person entered this country, as had been done in a previous such exercise. It is accepted that bright lines of this sort, even if they produce what appear to be arbitrary distinctions between one case and another, are often necessary and can be justified: see, eg, the age rules in R (Reynolds) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2005] UKHL 37, [2006] 1 AC 173.

45.  Instead, the Home Secretary was more selective, concentrating on a group which it was thought would bring the greatest financial and administrative advantages. It is accepted by the Home Secretary that some criteria, however rational on pragmatic grounds, would not have been justifiable. It would obviously have been wrong to select only families headed by men rather than families headed by women, perhaps because it was believed that men could or would more readily find work to support the family; or to select families from some ethnic groups rather than others, perhaps for the same reason. That is one reason why Mr Singh devoted so much time to trying to persuade us that being parentless or childless, or not being part of a family unit, was in the same sort of category as race or sex.

46.   The administrative and pragmatic reasons put forward for the original policy are not difficult to accept. It is in the public interest that the administration of asylum and immigration control be as efficient as possible. Indeed, the original policy did not involve any less favourable treatment as between the two groups of children while they were children. It is rather less easy to accept that the same reasons applied to the 2004 extension to young adults. Then the difference in treatment between the two groups became acute, because one would be sent back to their country of origin and the other would not. But the administrative reasons for singling out the one for more favourable treatment make rather less sense. Indeed, there is very little evidence of what the reasons were for the 2004 extension. It did remain within the original concept of the policy, as applying to family units as a whole, rather than extending it to a quite different category. Young adults who are part of a family unit may find it easier to make a claim based upon the right to respect for their family life, than young adults who are not part of a family unit may find it to make a claim based upon the right to respect for the private life which they have established here. One suspects, but it is pure speculation, that the bright date lines drawn by the original policy had thrown up some particularly hard cases. And the justifications put forward for the original policy were never entirely administrative. It was recognised that there were also strong compassionate grounds in many of these family cases. No doubt this made it easier to “sell” the policy in some quarters where it might otherwise have been unpopular.

47.  Once compassionate grounds come into the picture, it becomes rather more difficult to justify distinguishing between young men who do and young men who do not have a family in this country. It would be different if the latter had a family of some sort to return to in their home countries. But it is more difficult to draw a distinction on compassionate grounds between a person who arrived here as an unaccompanied child, who could not be returned to his home country while he was a child because there was no-one there to look after him, who had therefore to make a life for himself in this country, and who still has no family to return to, and a person who is here with his family, but whose family has no better right to be here under the asylum and immigration rules than does the single person who is being excluded. Whatever the outcome of these appeals it is to be hoped that the authorities will recognise the strength of the compassionate grounds in these cases. However, there may be many other people falling outside the policy where the compassionate grounds are also strong. The essence of the policy was its efficiency, not its compassion.

48.  It is also relevant that this was a policy aimed to benefit family groups. It was about who should be allowed to stay, whether or not they had a good claim to do so, and who should be obliged to go. The policy makers were not thinking in terms of the children, still less of the young adults, who were and were not to benefit from it. They did not address their minds to the unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers. It was not targeted against them. That is a relevant, although by no means conclusive consideration in article 14 cases. But the fact that it was aimed at family groups is relevant in another way. The favourable treatment given to the family groups was an aspect of the respect accorded by the state to family life, as, for example, was the favourable treatment given to husbands who wanted to bring their wives here in the Abdulaziz case. In the Abdulaziz case, it was that same right to respect for family life which was engaged by the differential treatment given to wives who wanted to bring their husbands here. In this case, however, it is not the same right which is in play. The family life of the family groups who are here is undoubtedly in play, whereas it is only the private life of the appellants which may be in play. Although both are protected by article 8, we are not therefore looking at differential treatment in relation to exactly the same Convention right. This makes this case very different from the usual article 14 case. Whether one regards it as a case in which the individuals are not in an analogous situation, or whether one regards it as a case of justification, one way or another it appears to me that the policy can withstand scrutiny in the sense explained by Lord Nicholls in the Carson case.

49.   I therefore find it possible to conclude, although not without considerable misgivings and regrets, that there has been no violation of article 14 in this case. As already explained, if the claim cannot succeed on article 14 grounds, it cannot in my view succeed at common law. I would therefore dismiss both appeals.


My Lords,

50.  I have had the advantage of reading in draft the opinion of my noble and learned friend Baroness Hale of Richmond and am most grateful to her for so thorough a recital of the relevant facts, law and arguments raised on these appeals. For my part I have found especially valuable Lady Hale’s analysis of article 14 (and the comparison she makes between that article and both our own and the United States domestic jurisprudence on discrimination) in paras 20-31 of her opinion. It is also most convenient to find the reasons for the impugned policy so succinctly summarised in paras 37-40 (the latter emphasising why none of the benefits of the policy would accrue to the Home Office in the case of unaccompanied minors). All this has enabled me to express my own views on these appeals really very shortly.

51.  In a sentence (although I shall have to expand upon it a little) it seems to me quite simply contrived and unreal to regard this policy as a violation of article 14 or of the common law principle of non-discrimination, either on grounds of disproportionality or for want of justification. Its plain intent was to improve the system of immigration control by releasing from it an easily identifiable group of people (of all nationalities, both sexes and various ages) who were causing it particular problems, essentially families with children. The policy was called the “family amnesty” policy and was clearly introduced rather for the benefit of the Home Office than for those whom it enabled to remain. Necessarily bright lines had to be drawn: the concession only availed the relevant family if the parent of the dependent child[ren] had applied for asylum before 2 October 2000 and dates were also specified (later extended) for when the dependency had to exist.

52.  Of course a concession of this nature could have been applied across the board. But if it had been it would have allowed to remain in this country very many people whose removal would have presented no particular difficulty. Obviously this would have brought less net benefit in the way of immigration control: those additionally allowed to stay would have added to the numbers released from immigration control without corresponding benefit to its future efficiency. It necessarily followed from the policy actually adopted that all sorts of people fell outside it. Unaccompanied children were plainly amongst those who did not qualify—although they in fact benefited from another policy directly referable to children, ensuring that they would not in any event be removed during their minority. Also excluded were all those (even if otherwise within a qualifying family) on whose behalf no asylum claim had been made before 2 October 2000. Also all those outside the specified family structure—adults without dependent children or, indeed, grandparents, uncles, aunts, or anyone else except parents, even if they were living with dependent children.

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