ECHR judgment in Roche v UK (rejection of claim for compensation for harm suffered at Porton Down research centre in 1960s) - 19 October

October 10, 2005

Strasbourg, 7 October 2005

The European Court of Human Rights will be holding a public hearing in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on Wednesday 19 October 2005 at 2.15 p.m. (local time) to deliver its Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Roche v. the United Kingdom (application no. 32555/96)

The press release and the text of the judgment will be available after the hearing on the Court's Internet site ( http://www.echr.coe.int).

Roche v. the United Kingdom

The case concerns an application brought by a United Kingdom national, Thomas Michael Roche, who was born in 1938 and lives in Lancashire (United Kingdom).

In 1953 the applicant joined the British Army and was discharged in 1968 for reasons unrelated to his case before the European Court of Human Rights.

In 1987 he developed high blood pressure and now suffers from hypertension, chronic obstructive airways disease (bronchitis) and bronchial asthma. He has not worked since 1988 and is registered as an invalid. He maintains that his health problems are the result of his participation in mustard and nerve gas tests conducted by the British Armed Forces at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment (CBDE) at Porton Down Barracks (England) in 1962 and 1963. There is no record of his having participated in such tests in 1962 but it is not disputed that he did so in 1963.

From 1987 the applicant actively sought access to his service records via medical and political channels, with limited success. On 10 June 1991 he submitted a claim for a service pension. On 28 January 1992 the Secretary of State rejected his pension claim as he had not demonstrated a causal link between the tests and his medical condition.

In 1994 he threatened to bring judicial review proceedings alleging, among other things, negligence on the part of the Ministry of Defence. On 3 August 1995 the Secretary of State issued a certificate under section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, which effectively blocks any such proceedings concerning events prior to 1987 while allowing the person concerned to apply for a service pension.

In November 1998 - following the European Court of Human Right's judgment of 9 June 1998 in the case of McGinley and Egan v. the United Kingdom - the applicant appealed to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal (PAT). He applied for the disclosure of official information under Rule 6 (1) of the PAT Rules to enable the PAT to decide whether his illness was caused or aggravated by the Porton Down gas tests. In February 2001 the PAT ordered the Ministry of Defence to disclose certain categories of records and certain documents were disclosed in 2001 and 2002. The PAT found against the applicant on the substance of his appeal. He appealed successfully to the High Court, which remitted his case to the PAT.

The applicant complains that he was denied adequate access to information concerning the tests he underwent at Porton Down in violation of Articles 8 (right to respect for private life) and 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. He also complains that the certificate issued by the Secretary of State under section 10 of the 1947 Act constitutes a violation of his right of access to court, guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing), and of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) taken alone and in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). He further relies on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

The application was lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights on 31 January 1996 and transmitted to the European Court of Human Rights on 1 November 1998. The case was declared partly admissible on 23 May 2002 and on 25 March 2004 the Chamber relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. A public hearing took place in the Human Rights building, Strasbourg on 20 October 2004.

European Court of Human Rights
Press release issued by the Registrar, No. 521
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