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Chapman v. UK (Application No. 27238/95)

18 January 2001


Chapman, a Gypsy, alleged a violation of her right to private life as she was refused planning permission to station caravans on her land, and in respect of enforcement measures implemented as a consequence of the occupation of her land.


No violation of Article 8. Interference pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the “rights of others” through preservation of the environment

Key jurisprudence

  • “The Court considers that the applicant’s occupation of her caravan is an integral part of her ethnic identity as a Gypsy, reflecting the long tradition of that minority of following a travelling lifestyle.” (§ 73)
  • “Although the fact of belonging to a minority with a traditional lifestyle different from that of the majority does not confer an immunity from general laws intended to safeguard the assets of the community as a whole, such as the environment, it may have an incidence on the manner in which such laws are to be implemented.” (§ 96)
  • “As intimated in Buckley, the vulnerable position of Gypsies as a minority means that some special consideration should be given to their needs and their different lifestyle. “ (§ 96)


The Court further observed that there may be said to be an “emerging international consensus” amongst the Council of Europe States “recognising the special needs of minorities and an obligation to protect their security, identity and lifestyle, not only for the purpose of safeguarding the interests of the minorities themselves but to preserve a cultural diversity of value to the whole community” (§ 93). Unfortunately, this consensus was swiftly denounced as insufficiently concrete, and as offering no guidance to Contracting States (§ 93).

Chapman was decided ten votes to seven. The seven dissenting judges in their joint opinion focused on the majority’s reasoning that according Gypsies who had unlawfully stationed a caravan site at a particular place different treatment from that accorded to non-Gypsies, could “raise substantial problems under Article 14 of the Convention” (§ 95). As the dissenting judges crucially noted:

This approach ignores the fact, earlier acknowledged by the majority, that in this case the applicant’s lifestyle as a Gypsy widens the scope to Article 8, which would not necessarily be the case for a person who lives in conventional housing, the supply of which is subject to fewer constraints. (§ 8, Dissenting Opinion).

Whilst the majority claimed that complications could arise under Article 14 (right to non-discrimination), the dissenting minority clarify that these situations are not wholly analogous, as non-Gypsies would not be afforded similar protection of Article 8. Conventional housing would have to be seen as “an integral part” of the non-Gypsy’s ethnic identity for Article 8 to be engaged. Moreover, the dissenting judges argued, citing Thlimmenos, that the failure to treat Gypsies differently in this situation could instead constitute a form of discrimination against Gypsies (§ 8, Dissenting Opinion).

The dissenting judges also held that the environmental arguments raised by the Government did not “disclose a “pressing social need” when compared with what was at stake for the applicant” (§ 4, Dissenting Opinion).

This judgment was delivered in conjunction with four cases involving Gypsies against the United Kingdom: Beard (24882/94), Coster (24876/94), Lee (25289/94) and Jane Smith (25154/94). The reasoning in all five judgments is the same.

Related cases

  • Thlimmenos
  • Buckley
  • Cossey