13 November 2019

The Supreme Court has overturned a decision by the Court of Appeal and confirmed that Tribunals have the power and duty to uphold human rights laws, and to not follow legislation that breaches them.

Liberty, the human rights organisaiton which intervened in the case along with the Public Law Project and Child Poverty Action Group, has welcomed the decision which ensures that people can fully uphold their rights in all UK courts.

Rosie Brighouse, Liberty lawyer, said: “When people use the Human Rights Act to protect and uphold their fundamental rights, they need to know it gives them a route to full and fair justice. This decision makes clear what people can expect from their courts and public bodies when it comes to their duties under human rights law.

“The Human Rights Act exists to enable all of us to uphold our rights, which makes this a major victory for access to justice for everyone in the UK.”


The case dates back to the Bedroom Tax litigation, in which claimants Mr and Mrs Carmichael successfully argued that the regulation discriminated against them, in breach of the Human Rights Act. The Bedroom Tax was in place from 2012 until the case made its way through to the Supreme Court, which handed down its judgment in 2016, and the plaintiffs have been seeking recompense for the resulting financial loss during that time.

Though the Carmichaels won this claim at the First Tier Tribunal, the Court of Appeal overturned that decision, finding that the Tribunal had to apply the discriminatory secondary legislation that was in place at the relevant time, even though it breached the Human Rights Act.

The Supreme Court has now confirmed that under the Human Rights Act, public bodies such as the Tribunal have a duty to uphold human rights laws, and not to follow secondary legislation that is incompatible with our human rights. The Court of Appeal’s decision has been overturned unanimously today in a judgment with major constitutional significance.

Liberty intervened jointly with the Public Law Project and Child Poverty Action Group, represented by Martin Chamberlain QC, Tom Royston and Jennifer MacLeod of Brick Court Chambers instructed by Herbert Smith Freehills. We are very grateful to our fellow interveners for their work on this case and also to our legal team, who all acted pro bono.

The judgment and press summary are available here.