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ECtHR / Application no. 28957/95 / Judgment

Christine Goodwin v. the United Kingdom

Policy area:
Employment and social policy
Deciding Body type:
European Court of Human Rights
Deciding Body:
Court (Grand Chamber)
Type:
Decision
Decision date:
11/07/2002
ECLI:
ECLI:CE:ECHR:2002:0711JUD002895795

Key facts of the case:

12. The applicant is a United Kingdom citizen born in 1937 and is a post-operative male to female transsexual.

13. The applicant had a tendency to dress as a woman from early childhood and underwent aversion therapy in 1963-64. In the mid-1960s, she was diagnosed as a transsexual. Though she married a woman and they had four children, her conviction was that her “brain sex” did not fit her body. From that time until 1984 she dressed as a man for work but as a woman in her free time. In January 1985, the applicant began treatment in earnest, attending appointments once every three months at the Gender Identity Clinic at the Charing Cross Hospital, which included regular consultations with a psychiatrist as well as on occasion a psychologist. She was prescribed hormone therapy, began attending grooming classes and voice training. Since this time, she has lived fully as a woman. In October 1986, she underwent surgery to shorten her vocal chords. In August 1987, she was accepted on the waiting list for gender re-assignment surgery. In 1990, she underwent gender re-assignment surgery at a National Health Service hospital. Her treatment and surgery was provided for and paid for by the National Health Service.

14. The applicant divorced from her former wife on a date unspecified but continued to enjoy the love and support of her children.

15. The applicant claims that between 1990 and 1992 she was sexually harassed by colleagues at work. She attempted to pursue a case of sexual harassment in the Industrial Tribunal but claimed that she was unsuccessful because she was considered in law to be a man. She did not challenge this decision by appealing to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The applicant was subsequently dismissed from her employment for reasons connected with her health, but alleges that the real reason was that she was a transsexual.

16. In 1996, the applicant started work with a new employer and was required to provide her National Insurance (“NI”) number. She was concerned that the new employer would be in a position to trace her details as once in the possession of the number it would have been possible to find out about her previous employers and obtain information from them. Although she requested the allocation of a new NI number from the Department of Social Security (“DSS”), this was rejected and she eventually gave the new employer her NI number. The applicant claims that the new employer has now traced back her identity as she began experiencing problems at work. Colleagues stopped speaking to her and she was told that everyone was talking about her behind her back.

17. The DSS Contributions Agency informed the applicant that she would be ineligible for a State pension at the age of 60, the age of entitlement for women in the United Kingdom. In April 1997, the DSS informed the applicant that her pension contributions would have to be continued until the date at which she reached the age of 65, being the age of entitlement for men, namely April 2002. On 23 April 1997, she therefore entered into an undertaking with the DSS to pay direct the NI contributions which would otherwise be deducted by her employer as for all male employees. In the light of this undertaking, on 2 May 1997, the DSS Contributions Agency issued the applicant with a Form CF 384 Age Exemption Certificate (see Relevant domestic law and practice below).

18. The applicant's files at the DSS were marked “sensitive” to ensure that only an employee of a particular grade had access to her files. This meant in practice that the applicant had to make special appointments for even the most trivial matters and could not deal directly with the local office or deal with queries over the telephone. Her record continues to state her sex as male and despite the “special procedures” she has received letters from the DSS addressed to the male name which she was given at birth.

19. In a number of instances, the applicant stated that she has had to choose between revealing her birth certificate and foregoing certain advantages which were conditional upon her producing her birth certificate. In particular, she has not followed through a loan conditional upon life insurance, a re-mortgage offer and an entitlement to winter fuel allowance from the DSS. Similarly, the applicant remains obliged to pay the higher motor insurance premiums applicable to men. Nor did she feel able to report a theft of 200 pounds sterling to the police, for fear that the investigation would require her to reveal her identity.

Outcome of the case:

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT 

  1. Holds unanimously that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention;
  2. Holds unanimously that there has been a violation of Article 12 of the Convention;
  3. Holds unanimously that no separate issue arises under Article 14 the Convention;
  4. Holds unanimously that there has been no violation of Article 13 of the Convention;
  5. Holds unanimously that the finding of violation constitutes in itself sufficient just satisfaction for the non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicant;
  6. Holds unanimously that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months, EUR 39,000 (thirty nine thousand euros) in respect of costs and expenses, together with any value-added tax that may be chargeable, to be converted into pounds sterling at the date of settlement;
  7. Holds by fifteen votes to two that simple interest at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank plus three percentage points shall be payable from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement;
  8. Dismisses unanimously the remainder of the applicant's claim for just satisfaction.

CONCURRING OPINION OF JUDGE FISCHBACH

Even though I voted with the majority of the Court as concerns point 7 of the operative part of the judgment, I would have preferred a fixed rate of default interest to have been set.

PARTLY DISSENTING OPINION OF JUDGE TÜRMEN

As concerns default interest, I would have preferred, at point 7 of the operative part of the judgment, for a fixed rate to have been set.

PARTLY DISSENTING OPINION OF JUDGE GREVE

In the present case I do not share the views of the majority of my colleagues concerning the default interest to be paid. There is agreement among the judges that the euro is a suitable reference currency for all awards under Article 41. The Court wants such awards paid promptly, and the default interest rate is intended to be an incentive for prompt payment without it having a punitive character. So far I fully agree. Under the Court's new policy awards are made in the euro to be converted into national currencies at the day of settlement. This means that in the present case the applicant will suffer a loss in the value of her award if her national currency, the pound sterling, continues to gain strength vis-à-vis the euro. Conversion into national currency first at the day of settlement in contradistinction to a conversion at the day of the judgement will favour applicants from the euro countries and applicants that have national currencies on a par with the euro, or weaker. All other applicants will suffer a loss under the changed policy. This, in my opinion, conflicts with the provisions of Article 14 in combination with Article 41. Moreover, it conflicts with the Court's desire that the awards shall to be as fair as possible, that is to maintain the value of the award as accurately as possible. The latter objective is also the rationale for changing the Court's previous practice of using the default interest rate in each member State as basis for the Court's decision in individual cases. The majority is attempting to secure that awards become fair by using varying interest rates as they evolve throughout the period of default. The marginal lending rate used by the European Central Bank (ECB) when lending money overnight to commercial banks plus three percentage points will be used. This will in the present case, as in many other cases, give the applicant a lower default interest rate than the rate previously used by the Court, the national default interest rate. The marginal lending rate is interest paid by banks to the ECB, when they need quick emergency loans. That is, it is a rate which forms the ceiling for the commercial money market; and of little, if any, practical interest to most of the applicants in the Court. The default interest rates provided for in each of the States parties to the Convention for their part do reflect the situation in the national money markets regarding the rates to be paid by applicants who may have to opt for borrowing money while awaiting payment of an award of just satisfaction. For this reason national default interest rates compensate the individuals in a manner not secured by the new default interest rate opted for by the Court's majority. Furthermore, I believe that an applicant receiving an award ought to be able to know herself the applicable default interest rate. The marginal lending rate used by the ECB when lending money overnight to commercial banks is not easily available to all applicants in Europe. The rate has been stable for quite some time but if need be it could be set on a weekly if not even daily basis. Although it will be for the State to prove that it has actually paid the applicant in compliance with the judgment, and for the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe to check that this is correct, I find this to be an added bureaucratic procedure which makes it more difficult for applicants to keep track themselves. At all events the basis on which the Court's majority sets the new default interest rate is removed from the actual rate which an applicant, who needs to borrow money on an interim basis while awaiting payment of the award in a judgement, will have to pay. This is not compensated by the new varying interest rate, and this rather abstract search for fairness does not, in my opinion, merit a potentially bureaucratic new procedure.