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Matthews v Ministry of Defence, High Court

29 January 2002
The issues

Section 10 Crown Proceedings Act 1947 – Human Rights Act.

The facts

The Claimant had been an Electrical Engineer in the Royal Navy between 1955 and 1968. He developed an asbestos related illness. He blamed his employment with the MOD. The MOD denied the claim and relied on Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 (immunity from action in respect of claims brought against it by members of the Armed Forces). The Claimant argued that Section 10 infringed the Claimant’s Article 6 rights.

The decision

1. The Claimant was entitled to rely on Article 6, even though his claim arose from facts prior to the coming into force of the 1998 Act (following the reasoning in Wilson -v- First County Trust Ltd No.2).

2. Although the Defendant argued that Article 6 could have no relevance because the effect of the 1947 Act was to prevent the Claimant from having any civil right at all to damages and therefore there could be no determination of the Claimant’s civil rights to which the right of a fair Hearing guaranteed by Article 6 could relate, the Court concluded that the Claimant’s argument was correct, namely that the Claimant’s civil right (not to have been exposed to asbestos negligently) was unaffected by Section 10. The effects of Section 10 was to prevent him from pursuing the remedy of damages. Section 10 was therefore only a procedural bar to his claim. The Claimant therefore had civil rights to be determined and Article 6 provided him with the right of access to the Courts to enable those rights to be determined.

3. It was impossible to read Section 10 of the 1947 Act in such a way as to be compatible with the Claimant’s Article 6 rights.

4. The aim pursued by Section 10 was a legitimate one in 1947 in the aftermath of war. It was clear by its repeal in 1987 that the objective was thought to have been met.

5. In any event, it was not proportionate. Nor in its all embracing nature was it rationally connected to the limited objective that it was intended to achieve. The Court would issue a declaration of incompatibility. (Section 10 was repealed by the Crown Proceedings Armed Forces Act 1987 except insofar as a claim arises for an act or admission before 15th May 1987).

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