Court of Appeal Upholds Decision on Bereavement Payment Eligibility Criteria under UK Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

Citation: [2023] EWCA Civ 1527
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of Peiris v First-Tier Tribunal & Ors provides a detailed examination of the eligibility criteria within the UK’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (the Scheme) and how these relate to the principles enshrined in Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), read with Article 1 of the First Protocol. This case particularly focuses on whether the refusal to grant a bereavement payment to a non-UK resident is justifiable within the parameters of anti-discrimination as established by Article 14 of the ECHR.

Key Facts

Mr. Peiris, a Sri Lankan national whose son was tragically murdered in Sheffield, sought a bereavement payment from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (the Authority). His application was denied on the grounds of not satisfying the residence criteria stipulated by the Compensation Scheme, prompting a series of legal challenges up to the Court of Appeal. Key issues discerned throughout the appeals include whether there was unlawful discrimination against Mr. Peiris on the grounds of nationality and/or residence, and whether such discrimination, if any, could be objectively justified.

The Court of Appeal’s analysis hinges on the interpretation and application of several legal principles:

  1. Article 14 ECHR and Article 1 of the First Protocol: The compatibility of the Scheme with ECHR provisions prohibiting discrimination and the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions.

  2. Legitimate Aim and Proportionality: Whether the Scheme’s eligibility requirements, specifically relating to residence and nationality, serve a legitimate aim and are proportionate in the context of managing limited public resources dedicated to compensating victims of violent crimes.

  3. Analogous Positioning: Evaluation of whether individuals in different circumstances are in analogously similar positions for the purposes of discrimination analysis.

  4. Suspect Grounds: Assessment of whether the grounds for different treatment, such as nationality, demand ‘very weighty reasons’ for justification under Article 14 of the ECHR.

  5. Margin of Appreciation: Consideration of the appropriate level of deference to be given to national authorities in socio-economic policy decisions, which can inform the intensity of judicial review.

  6. Parliamentary Scrutiny: Acknowledgment of the enhanced weight given to legislative measures that have undergone rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.

Outcomes

The Court of Appeal determined the following outcomes:

  1. The denial of the bereavement payment to Mr. Peiris was based on eligibility criteria founded upon ordinary residence or British nationality within the UK, which constitutes an “other status” as per Article 14.

  2. The decision-maker’s aim to maintain a sustainable compensation scheme was legitimate. The eligibility criteria were not discriminatory in the context of rationing limited public funds.

  3. The criteria pursued a legitimate aim and met a reasonable proportionality requirement, balancing the need for cost control within a welfare system while expressing social solidarity.

  4. The Court of Appeal afforded a wide margin of appreciation to the state in imposing the contested Scheme requirements. The Scheme had been democratically scrutinized and approved by Parliament, reinforcing its legitimacy.

  5. The Court dismissed the appeal, upholding the Upper Tribunal’s finding that the differential treatment Mr. Peiris faced was justified.

Conclusion

The Peiris case is instrumental in clarifying the boundaries of lawful discrimination under Article 14 of the ECHR when juxtaposed with eligibility criteria in welfare schemes. The Court of Appeal emphasizes the importance of a legitimate aim and proportionality in justifying differential treatment based on residence status, whilst acknowledging the broad discretion afforded to national authorities in areas of social and economic policy. In conclusively dismissing the appeal, the Court fortifies the stance that maintaining sustainable and democratically vetted welfare provisions is paramount – even if this leads to distinctions based on residence and nationality that can otherwise raise discrimination concerns under the ECHR.

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