Case 3-4-1-11-10

3-4-1-11-10; Request no. 6 of 28 October 2010 of the Chancellor of Justice
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The Tallinn City Council adopted new regulations on the payment of social benefits to parents of newly born children. The new regulations imposed requirements that a) both parents residents of Tallinn and one of them was a resident for at least a year before the birth, b) the social benefits are paid in two parts, once after the birth and once after the child is one year old on the condition that all three of them have continuously resided in Tallinn. The Chancellor of Justice challenged the new regulations as unconstitutional.

The Court held that the discrimination the new regulations engaged in had legitimate objectives and was constitutional. The Court noted that while the constitutional equal treatment requirement applies to local governments, it provides them more freedom in decision making in the provision of services for needy people. The city would be allowed to treat people differently if the regulation has a legitimate objective and is proportional. The Court used comparable groups of families completely registered in Tallinn and those with only one family member registered within Tallinn. The Court noted the constitutional right of local governments of self-management includes allowing for sufficient financial resources. Having more residents provides tax money for the City Council and allows the city to better plan and provide local government services. The Court considered favoring local residents and encouraging those living within the city to register as residents as legitimate objectives.

The Court also held that if there was only one parent, the parent’s single registration within the city would suffice. The Court noted that a family with only one parent, who is a resident of the city, has just as strong of a bond with the city as a family with two parents who are both residents of the city. In contrast, a family with parents that are residents of different cities would not be as connected. The dissent disagreed with this point as it goes against the clear language of the provision.

No one contested the one-year durational residency requirement as unconstitutional.

“54. Different treatment has to be justified by a legitimate objective. The participants in the proceedings have deemed as a legitimate objective the goal to support the birth of children to a family where the parents are living together, and to ensure receipt of income tax to the budget of the city of Tallinn, and to favour only local residents.”

“58. … Since receipt of income tax to the local government budget depends on the registration of a person's place of residence in the population register, the local government has a clear interest that local residents would be registered in that local government. Knowing the number of residents is also necessary for the local government to plan the performance of its duties, for example to assess how many people may need social assistance and how many there are of potential every-day public transport users. Persons living in the local government use the services provided by the local government, if nothing else, then at least the public street network and lighting.”

“62. … The Constitution does not prescribe an absolute prohibition to treat persons differently, but person s may be treated differently if there is a legitimate objective and it is proportional. Due to the nature of the local government it operates only on the local level, meaning on its territory or relating to it. Powers of the local government are clearly limited to its territory. It cannot be otherwise regarding the obligations of the local government – the local government has no obligations before a person who has no connection with that local government.”

“72. If the child and his or her parent are registered as residents of Tallinn and the other parent is lacking … [the regulations] shall be interpreted so that a single parent would also have the right to childbirth allowance because such an interpretation is reasonable and constitutional, and a contrary interpretation would be unreasonable and unconstitutional.”

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