Traveller Law Database

Chapman v. the United Kingdom (Application Number 27238/95)

Date of Decision: Thu, 18 Jan 2001
Decision Making Body: European Court of Human Rights
Law Applied: European Convention on Human Rights
Keywords: Article 8 ECHR, Article 14 ECHR, Article 6 ECHR, evictions, Access to Justice, Discrimination, Planning Permission, Proportionality,Caravan Sites Act 1968, Town and Country Planning Act 1990
Full Case Details - Download Full Judgment (pdf)

The applicant, Ms. Chapman, had purchased a piece of land and intended to live on it in a caravan. She was refused planning permission and challenged this under Article 8 and 14 ECHR. The European Court of Human Rights found that there was no violation of those Articles applying the precedent set by Buckley v The United Kingdom (Application Number 20348/92) .


Ms. Chapman and her family resided in a caravan parked upon land which she owned. The land was located in a Green Belt outside of London adjacent to a small village. Ms. Chapman has resided in the area for many years and had no other option for accommodation. She sought permission to place her caravan on her land, but the council refused her planning application. She had challenged this decision in the domestic courts unsuccessfully. 

The applicant claimed that in 1984, the City Council informed her that if she bought land, she would be allowed to live on it. In 1985 she bought a piece of land intending to live on it with her family in a mobile home. The land was within a Local Authority district that did not have any official halting sites.   

The family moved to the land and applied for planning permission, which was rejected in 1986. The Council noted that the land was subject to an order, making it impossible for a caravan to be stationed there. An eviction notice was sent to the family, giving them 15 months to vacate the premises. The Council stated that a suitable location was being sought and that they would be able to move to a new official site within a year. A year passed and having nowhere else to go, the family remained on the land. The family applied for planning permission for a bungalow, as it had been stated at the public inquiry that this would be a more appropriate use of the land than a mobile home. This was also refused by the City Council.    

In 1989 and 1990, the family received further fines arising from their occupation of the land. After that, the family briefly returned to their nomadic lifestyle, obliging the children to drop out of education. In 1992 however the family returned to their land, and in 1993 the City Council issued further enforcement notices. The family appealed, but the appeal was dismissed. While there were no local authority sites or private authorised sites in their district, the Government submitted that there was local authority and authorised private sites elsewhere in the same county of Hertfordshire of which the Chapman family could avail. 

In lodging the claim before the ECtHR, Ms. Chapman noted that her occupation of her caravan was an integral part of her ethnic identity as a Gypsy and thus protected under Article 8 Right to private and family life. She also noted the engagement of Article 14, the principle of non-discrimination as she argued that Gypsy planning applicants experienced a much lower success rate than settled applications (20% v. 80%).     


Chapman’s claims concerned Article 6 right to a fair trial, Article 8 right to private and family life and Article 14 (taken in conjunction with Article 8) that the UK’s actions were discriminatory on the basis of her membership of the Gypsy community. 

Mrs Chapman's lawyers advanced two core points in their submissions. Firstly, they argued that the case at hand was substantially different from the Article 8 challenge in Buckley v The United Kingdom (Application Number 20348/92) arguing that this should be set aside. Secondly, the legal team highlighted the development of a ‘growing consensus’ within Europe and international organisations noting the need for member states to take specific measures to address the accommodation and living situation of the broader Gypsy and Roma communities. They therefore submitted that Articles 8 and 14 should be interpreted in the light of this clear international consensus. Recognising the need for urgent action. 

In addition, the lawyers sought to clarify certain aspects of the Court's 1996 judgment in Buckley. Of most importance in this respect was the legal question of whether state action to force a Romani individual to move her caravan engaged Article 8 - guaranteeing the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence - merely because it interfered with her enjoyment of her home, or whether it raised Article 8 issues because of the wider and more personal issue of an interference with "private and family life". 


Article 8 of the Convention

Regarding Article 8 of the Convention, the Court determined the decisions of the planning authorities and the measures of enforcement taken constituted an interference with the applicants' rights. While it was not contested that the measures were in accordance with the law and pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the rights of others through preservation of the environment, it remained to be determined whether the interference was necessary in a democratic society.    

The Court stated that the vulnerable position of the Gypsy minority meant that Article 8 imposes a positive obligation on the Contracting States to facilitate the Gypsy way of life, requiring special consideration within the relevant regulatory planning framework. While the provision of an adequate number of acceptable and affordable sites had not been achieved, the decision not to allow the applicant's family to occupy land where they wished to install their caravan did not in itself constitute a violation of Article 8.   

The Court felt this would be tantamount to imposing on the Contracting States an obligation to make available to the Gypsy community an adequate number of suitably equipped sites and Article 8 could not be interpreted as implying such a far-reaching positive obligation. The Court concluded that there was no violation with ten votes to seven. 

Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 

For the same reasons as those given under Article 8, any interference with the applicant's peaceful enjoyment of her property was proportionate and struck a fair balance in compliance with the requirements of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. The Court unanimously concluded that there was no violation.  

Article 6 

The scope of review of the High Court, available to the applicant after a public procedure before an inspector, was sufficient to comply with Article 6. The Court unanimously concluded that there was no violation. 

Article 14 

Having regard to the findings under Article 8 that any interference with the applicant's rights was proportionate to the legitimate aim of preservation of the environment, there was no discrimination contrary to Article 14. The Court unanimously concluded that there was no violation. 


The decision was that there had been no violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. Whilst the European Court of Human Rights is not bound by precedent to follow its previous decisions, it aims for consistency and here followed the Buckley case. 

However, the minority opinion found that a sufficient consensus for the protection of minorities existed and that the absence of an alternative suitable caravan site for the applicant required that the margin of appreciation be more strictly interpreted. 

NB: The 10:7 majority decision in Chapman was closer than the Buckley majority (6:3). Chapman thus showed that the UK was finding it increasingly more difficult to successfully challenge these cases and convince the Court. The ERRC notes the importance of the settlement in Varey v. United Kingdom (Application no 26662/95) where the UK settled out of Court, noting that but for this, the outcome may have been different. 

NB: Although the Court was divided in its decision, but it unanimously held that the enforcement decision removing the mobile home involved an interference under Article 8, not merely with the enjoyment of a home, but also of private and family life particularly attributable to the traditional Gypsy way of life. This was highly significant, as this represents a widening by the Court of caselaw principles concerning evictions under Article 8. The Court accepted here that they materially interfere with family life and not merely the siting of a home. Of particular importance here was the link needed to establish this. Previously, the Court has required substantial links to an area, by way of an applicant being resident there for an extended period of time, Yet in Chapman, the Court indicated that the issue of "family life" under Article 8 means that evictions which interfere with family ties, independent of the length of time of any particular encampment, will fall within the scope of the article.  

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