Protection of property

You have the right to enjoy your property peacefully.

Property can include things like land, houses, shares, licences, leases, patents, money, a pension and certain types of welfare benefits.

A public authority cannot take away property or place restrictions on your use of your property without very good reason.

This right applies to companies as well as individuals.

Example

If a public authority plans to build a road over someone’s land, it must have laws in place to let it do this. It must also have a procedure to check that a fair balance has been struck between the public interest in building the road and the individual’s right to their land.

(Example taken from Human rights, human lives, Department for Constitutional Affairs, 2006.)

Restrictions

In some situations, public authorities may interfere with your right to peaceful enjoyment of your property, for example by restricting your use of it or by taking it away.

This is only possible where the authority can show that its action has a proper basis in law and is necessary in the public interest.

The government must strike a fair balance between your interests as a property owner and the general interests of society as a whole.

If your property is taken away you should be entitled to compensation.

This right does not affect the ability of public authorities to enforce taxes or fines.

What the law says

Protocol 1, Article 1: Protection of property

Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of the State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.

Example cases

Howard v United Kingdom (1985)

An authority sought to compulsorily acquire a house for housing redevelopment. The European Commission of Human Rights held that the question in such cases was whether the public authority had struck a fair balance between the rights of the individual property owners and the rights of the community, in any expropriation of property. A significant factor in any such balance will be the availability of compensation reflecting the value of the property expropriated.

(Case summary provided by the British Institute of Human Rights)

J.A. Pye (Oxford) Ltd v United Kingdom (2005)

The European Court of Human Rights recently confirmed that property owners who lose their title because of adverse possession may be entitled to compensation from the UK government.

Last Updated: 09 Jun 2009