A judge has criticised a plan made by Scotland’s largest council to ignore a court order forcing it to find accommodation for a refugee family whose son has autism.
Lord Ericht concluded that it was “fundamental for the rule of law” that Glasgow City Council follow his finding that it had an obligation to secure housing for the displaced household.
The judge made the observation in an opinion issued at the Court of Session on Wednesday.
He had made the observation in delivering his findings on a case brought by a refugee, who was named only as X.
The court heard that X’s family consisted of her, her husband, three daughters and a ten-year-old son, who was diagnosed with a learning disability.
An occupational therapist recommended that the family be given a property with five bedrooms in the Glasgow City Council area.
The recommendation was made on the basis that such a large property was needed in order to accommodate the son’s needs as a person with autism.
However, the local authority told the family that it couldn’t supply such a house of that size.
Employees told X that the council was dependent on housing associations to supply homes and nothing of that size was available.
Glasgow City Council believed that it had fulfilled its legal obligations and that X’s family could continue to live at a four roomed house in the city.
This prompted lawyers for X to go to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. They told Lord Ericht that the council had a legal obligation to provide a five-roomed apartment.
Lord Ericht ruled in X’s favour – her legal team also asked the court to pass an order which would force the council to obtain suitable housing for her and her loved ones.
Lawyers for Glasgow City Council opposed such an order being granted. Its legal team told Lord Ericht that it planned to ignore the order as it couldn’t provide the kind of property required by the family.
This submission prompted Lord Ericht to criticise Glasgow City Council.
He wrote: “In this case however the respondent adopted the wholly extraordinary position that an order for specific performance should not be granted because it proposed not to comply with the court’s decision and instead continue to act unlawfully.
“It is fundamental to the rule of law that public authorities obey the law and obey the courts. If a court decides that public authority is in breach of a statutory duty, the public authority must comply with the duty.
“The authority cannot just say that it chooses not to do so because, in its view, it is impossible to do so. It must find a way to comply with its duty. The duty must be discharged: the authority has no choice.
“It is not up to the court to decide the precise way in which an authority complies with its statutory duty.
“The authority must find a way and must allocate appropriate resources to do so. If the authority’s usual third-party providers cannot provide it with the means to comply with the duty, then the authority must find other providers who can, or find another way to comply with the decision of the court.”
The judgement tells of how the family were granted refugee status in February 2020 and had spent their time before that in housing supplied by the Home Office.
After becoming recognised refugees, Glasgow City Council became the organisation responsible for supplying them with a property.
The council said it couldn’t supply the family with a five roomed house and it continued to provide them with a four roomed house.
In August 2021, the family’s lawyers wrote to the council saying that it should find them a more suitable house.
A caseworker assigned to the family then told them that the local authority had transferred all its homes to housing associations. He said that the council depended on social landlords to provide people with homes and that no five bedroom houses were available.
Solicitor advocate Mike Dailly, for X, told Lord Ericht that housing and equality legislation meant the council had an obligation to find them a five roomed property.
The court also heard the council didn’t have to rely on housing associations or other social landlords to provide accommodation. It could also use private sector landlords.
Lawyers for the Glasgow City Council told Lord Ericht that the issue was that there were no five roomed properties available in social housing stock in the city.
The judge rejected the submissions made to him by the council.
He has now fixed another hearing to take place in the near future into the progress that the local authority has made in finding suitable accommodation.
Lord Ericht added: “Having said all that, I appreciate that there may be practical issues for the respondent in complying with an order for specific performance immediately upon the issue of this opinion.
“I shall put this case out by order for discussion of the appropriate interlocutor in the light of my decision.
“At the by order, I will expect to be addressed by the respondent in detail as to how it proposes to comply with its statutory duty within a reasonably short timescale.
“It will not be acceptable for the local authority to say that it does not intend to comply.”