Siblings and civil partnerships

12 JUN 2007

Dr Ruth Gaffney-Rhys, Newport Business School, University of Wales, Newport. The European Court of Human Rights case of Burden and Burden v United Kingdom (Application No 13378/05) at the end of 2006 raised the issue of whether siblings should be able to enter into civil partnerships. The Burden sisters were in their eighties and had lived together for the past 30 years. When the first sister died, the survivor would be faced with a 40% inheritance tax bill which might force her to have to sell the house. Their argument was that their relationship was analogous to that of a married couple and that the charge for inheritance tax (which would not apply to married couples and civil partners) infringed their Art 14 and Art 1 rights under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 (the Convention). The court held that the UK tax concession granted to spouses and civil partners pursued a legitimate aim and there had been no breach of the sisters' Convention rights.

This article considers whether cohabiting siblings are in a relationship analogous to marriage and civil partnership and revisits the debate on the issue which accompanied the passing of the Civil Partnership Bill through Parliament. There are a variety of insurmountable difficulties with giving siblings and other family members the right to form civil partnerships, particularly surrounding the issue of dissolution. There are duties imposed by civil partnerships that go along with the rights, and some of these simply prove too problematic to grant close family members the right to enter into civil partnerships. For the full article see June [2007] International Family Law.

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