(European Court of Human Rights; June 17 2008)
The Child Support Agency had been guilty of considerable delay in pursuing the father for child maintenance; under Child Support Act 1991 the mother could not enforce her claim against the father directly through the courts. The mother eventually received an apology from the Child Support Agency, and a sum equivalent to the amount she might have received but for the delays, plus ex gratia compensation. The mother argued that the provisions of the Child Support Act 1991 deprived her of her right to access to court under European Convention on Human Rights, Art 6, and that the Act was therefore incompatible with the Convention. The national courts concluded that the mother had had access to court, as she had been able to bring judicial review proceedings, which would have been an effective remedy to end delay, even though the judicial review process did not provide financial redress. The mother took her claim to the European Court of Human Rights.
The mother had not been denied access to court, as she could have brought judicial review proceedings against the Child Support Agency and/or the Secretary of State concerning any alleged failure properly to enforce the father's payment of child support. The opportunity to obtain court orders directing the relevant authority to take appropriate and expeditious action must be regarded as effectively addressing the mother's principal concern; the fact that damages were not available via judicial review did not mean that the mother's civil rights could not be enforced.