Feminist Legal Studies 17 (2):205-218 (2009)

Two elderly sisters who lived together complained of discrimination on the ground that, when one of them died, the other would face a heavy inheritance tax bill, unlike the survivor of a marriage or civil partnership who enjoys a “spousal exemption” under the Inheritance Tax Act 1984. They lost in both the lower chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and on appeal to the Grand Chamber. At first instance, discrimination was found but held to be proportionate and justifiable; in the Grand Chamber, no discrimination was found, as siblings and spouses/civil partners were held not to be in an analogous situation. As an attempt to avoid a tax borne only by the comparatively wealthy, this case might not naturally engage feminist sympathies. But it demonstrates how unworthy claims can produce positive results by drawing attention to society’s dismissive treatment of old people and calling into question the legal and economic privileges enjoyed by legally-bound couples at the expense of everyone else
Keywords Civil partnership  Marriage  Discrimination  European Convention on Human Rights  Home  Inheritance tax  Old age  Property  Spinsters
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DOI 10.1007/s10691-009-9121-x
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