West Law Report

No discrimination for tax

From The TimesMay 7, 2008

No discrimination for tax
Burden and Another v United Kingdom (Application No 13378/05) in the European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

Published May 7, 2008

Burden and Another v United Kingdom (Application No 13378/05)

Before J.-P. Costa, President and Judges Sir Nicolas Bratza, B. M. Zupancic, F. Tulkens, R. Türmen, C. Bîrsan, N. Vajic, M. Tsatsa-Nikolovska, A. Baka, M. Ugrekhelidze, A. Kovler, E. Steiner, J. Borrego Borrego, E. Myjer, D. Thór Björgvinsson, I. Ziemele and I. Berro-Lefèvre Jurisconsult V. Berger

Judgment April 29, 2008

Sisters who shared a house could not be compared to a couple united by law so as to invoke provisions prohibiting discrimination.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights so held, by 15 votes to 2, finding that there had been no violation of article 14, prohibiting discrimination, of the European Convention on Human Rights taken in conjunction with article 1 of Protocol No 1, protecting property rights.

The case concerned two British nationals, Joyce and Sybil Burden, born in 1918 and 1925 respectively, unmarried sisters who lived in Marlborough.

The applicants had lived together all their lives; for the last 30 years in a house built on land they inherited from their parents. Each had made a will leaving all her property to the other. The sisters, both in their eighties, were concerned that, when one of them died, the other would be forced to sell the house to pay inheritance tax.

Property passing from the deceased to a spouse or civil partner, a category introduced under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 for same-sex couples, was exempt from the charge.

The Court held in a chamber judgment (The Times January 19, 2007), by four votes to three, that there had been no violation of article 14 taken in conjunction with article 1 of Protocol No 1. On March 8, 2007, the applicants requested that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.

The Grand Chamber concluded, by 15 votes to 2, with Judges Zupancic and Borrego Borrego dissenting, that the applicants, as cohabiting sisters, could not be compared for the purposes of article 14 to a married or Civil Partnership Act couple.

It followed that there had been no discrimination and, therefore, no violation of article 14 taken in conjunction with article 1 of Protocol No 1.