Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Seedis v. Chief Execution Officer & Schmuel Seedis Supreme Court (as an article 55 Special Tribunal) (1954)

Property and inheritance rights

A woman petitioned the article 55 Special Tribunal, which decides whether a case is of personal status and thus within the exclusive jurisdiction of a Religious Court, for review of the Rabbinical Court’s decision to allow her husband to receive rent from a property belonging to the plaintiff.  The Rabbinical Court exercised jurisdiction pursuant to Article 51 and 53 of the Palestine Order in Council 1922, which states that “suits regarding marriage” or “matters of marriage” are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the religious courts. The Special Tribunal agreed with the Rabbinical Court’s decision to exercise jurisdiction over the suit, reasoning that articles 51 and 53 are not limited to questions regarding the existence of a marriage, but also include claims for the enforcement of rights derived from marriage, including property rights.



Quartson v. Quartson Superior Court of Judicature (2012)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

Ms. Quartson filed for divorce, seeking that Mr. Quartson vacate the home they shared during the marriage. Mr. Quartson solely funded the construction of the house, but Ms. Quartson was the sole supervisor of the home’s construction, ensuring that it was built satisfactorily and taking care of their three children while he was away working as a seafarer. Based on these facts, the Superior Court overturned a trial court decision granting the home to Mr. Quartson, instead holding that because Ms. Quartson ran the household and supervised its construction while her husband was away, she should be entitled to a share of the home’s value. Although there may be circumstances that demonstrate clear evidence that a spouse is not entitled to the property, the Court also held that such circumstances did not exist in the present case. The Court found that Ms. Quartson had interest in the property, and granted her the home.



Stack v. Dowden [2007] UKHL 17 House of Lords (2007)

Property and inheritance rights

The parties began a relationship and the defendant bought a house in her sole name in which the parties lived together as man and wife and had four children. The defendant, who throughout their time together earned more money than the claimant, and sometimes almost twice as much, made all the payments due under the mortgage and paid the household bills. The parties then separated and the claimant left the property while the defendant remained there with the children. The claimant successfully applied to the judge for, inter alia, an order for sale of the property and an equal division of the proceeds. In this case it was held that where a domestic property is conveyed into the joint names of cohabitants without any declaration of trust there is an assumption that interest is equal. To prove interest is not equal, it must be proved that the parties held a common intention that their beneficial interests be different from their legal interests; to discern the parties' common intention the court should look at the parties' whole course of conduct in relation to the property, including more stereotypically feminine input such as redecoration, contributions to household expenses, etc and not just the initial contributions to purchase price, thus allowing some women more opportunity to claim an interest in their family home.



Metro N. Owners, LLC v. Thorpe Civil Court of the City of New York (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Property and inheritance rights

Ms. Thorpe was a victim of domestic violence.  Her landlord sought to evict her from her apartment, alleging nuisance in violation of the lease.  Ms. Thrope was the only person on the lease.  Her landlord’s nuisance claim was based on a fight that had occurred between Ms. Thorpe and her husband.  Ms. Thorpe moved for summary judgment based on the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (“VAWA 2005”).  Under VAWA 2005, “an incident of domestic violence will not be construed to violate a public-housing or government-assisted tenancy and shall not be good cause to terminate a public-housing or government-assisted tenancy if the tenant is the victim or threatened victim of domestic violence.”  Ms. Thorpe argued that because her landlord’s allegations of nuisance were based solely on acts of domestic violence committed against her, he could not terminate her government-assisted tenancy.  To prove that she was a victim of domestic violence, Ms. Thorpe provided three complaint reports that she had filed with the New York Police Department, along with a protective order she obtained against her husband from the New York City Criminal Court.  The court granted Ms. Thorpe’s motion for summary judgment because she was a victim of domestic violence, and as such, VAWA 2005 prohibited her landlord from terminating her lease.  The court reasoned that “VAWA’s goal is to prevent a landlord from penalizing a tenant for being a victim of domestic violence,” as Ms. Thorpe was here.



Case on the House Head System Constitutional Court of South Korea (2005)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices

The petitioners requested the constitutional review of Civil Code provisions which establish the traditional "house head system" (Ho-jue jae-do) which holds that a household is formed around the male, and passes down only through direct male descendants serving as successive house heads.  Under this system, male members are always recorded as the head of family in the Family Registry, and hold superior inheritance rights over female members. The Court held that the provisions which establish the "house head system" are unconstitutional.  The Court held that this system is a "statutory device to form a family with  male lineage at the center and perpetuate it to successive generations."  Furthermore, the system discriminates both men and women because it determines the order of succession, and effects marital relations and parent-children relationships.  The Court held that family relationships are changing, from authoritarian to democratic relationships, where "all family members are equally respected as individuals with dignity regardless of sex."



International Case Law

Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous Community v. Paraguay Inter-American Court of Human Rights (2006)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Gender discrimination, International law, Property and inheritance rights

This case involved issues involving the exposure of vulnerable members of indigenous communities, particularly children, pregnant women, and the elderly. A petition was filed against Paraguay on behalf of the Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous Community, alleging violations of, among other things, the right to fair trial and judicial protection, the right to property and the right to life. The petition noted that these violations placed children, pregnant women and the elderly in particularly vulnerable situations. The Court found Paraguay to be in violation of Articles 1(1), 2, 3, 4(1), 8, 19, 21 and 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The Court ordered Paraguay to formally and physically convey to the Sawhoyamaxa their traditional lands, to establish a community development fund, to pay non-pecuniary damages, to provide the Sawhoyamaxa with basic necessities until their lands were restored, to provide the Sawhoyamaxa with the necessary tools for communication to access health authorities, and to domestically enact legislation creating a mechanism for indigenous communities to reclaim their traditional lands.



Ato del Avellanal v. Peru Human Rights Committee (1988)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

In 1978, the court of first instance ruled in favor of Graciela Ato del Avellanal on a claim for overdue rent owed to her by tenants of two apartment buildings she owned in Lima. The Superior Court reversed the judgment in 1980 because article 168 of the Peruvian Civil Code stated that when a woman is married, only the husband is entitled to represent matrimonial property before the Courts; therefore, Avellanal did not herself have standing to sue. Avellanal appealed to the Peruvian Supreme Court, arguing that the Peruvian Magna Carta and the Peruvian Constitution guarantee equal rights to both men and women. After the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision, Avellanal interposed the recourse of amparo (an order to guarantee protection of the complainant’s constitutional rights), claiming a violation of article 2(2) of Peru’s Constitution, which the Supreme Court rejected. In her complaint to the Committee, Avellanal cited violations on the ground that Peru discriminated against her because she was a woman. With respect to the requirements set forth in article 14 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals, the Committee noted that the Superior Court reversed the lower court’s decision on the sole ground that Avellanal was a woman and did not have standing as such under Peruvian Civil Code article 168. The Committee also concluded that the facts before it disclosed a violation of article 3 of the Covenant which requires the State party to undertake “to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights,” and article 26 which provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to its protection.