Marc Willers QC
Joint Head of Chambers
“He’s the first point of call for any Gypsy or Traveller planning matters – he’s extremely knowledgeable and an exceptional advocate.”
“Marc Willers is superb at dealing with Traveller families; he has a breadth of knowledge and understands minutely the cultural issues that face this client group.”
Chambers UK Bar Guide
Marc won the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award 2011. He was shortlisted for the same award in 2006.
He is recommended in the Chambers UK Bar Guide 2017 and Legal 500 2016 in planning law.
Marc specialises in the following areas:
- Public and administrative law
- Planning and environmental law
- Human rights and discrimination
- Gypsy, Traveller and Roma law
Marc was called to the Bar in 1987 and is a member of Lincoln’s Inn. He was called to the Irish Bar in 1992 and has been a registered pupil supervisor for more than 20 years. In 2008 Marc qualified as an accredited mediator and in 2015 he was appointed to The Equality and Human Rights Commission A list Panel of Counsel.
Marc has appeared in many of the leading cases concerning the rights of Gypsies and Travellers and in 2011 he represented the Irish Travellers living on Dale Farm in their high-profile judicial review challenge of the decision taken by Basildon Borough Council to use its direct action powers to evict them from their homes.
In July 2012, Marc represented the residents of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone when they challenged the Government’s decision to place a high velocity missile system on the roof of their tower block as part of the air defence plan for the 2012 Olympic Games and in 2013 he represented the young offender claimants who sought judicial review of the government’s decision to close Ashfield Young Offenders Institute.
In 2015, Marc represented the Traveller Movement and a number of other claimants in their successful discrimination claim brought against the national pub chain, JD Wetherspoon; and more recently Marc has been instructed to advise on a number of environmental law challenges to decisions granting planning permission for fracking operations and the government’s climate change policies.
Marc is regularly instructed to advise on environmental law challenges to decisions granting planning permission for fracking operations and the government’s climate change policies and he recently represented Mr Frackman in a High Court challenge against the decision of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to grant Cuadrilla planning permission for fracking at a site in Lancashire.
“In his delivery, he makes you feel comfortable and then of course he trips you up, which is a good skill. Not that he’s trying to make you fall over but he will get the point out of you that you’re trying to steer clear from.”
Chambers UK Bar Guide 2017
“He provides specialist representation of Gypsies and Travellers.”
Legal 500 2016
Marc is the co-editor and co-author of a book entitled Gypsy and Traveller Law which was first published by the Legal Action Group and the Commission for Racial Equality in 2004 (the second edition was published in 2007). Marc is also the editor of the Council of Europe’s handbook for lawyers defending Roma and Travellers entitled Ensuring access to rights for Roma and Travellers – The role of the European Court of Human Rights (2014). He is also a regular contributor to the Legal Action Group magazine and other legal publications.
Training and advisory work
Over the last 15 years Marc has undertaken a considerable number of international speaking engagements relating to human rights abroad. He has been invited to speak as an expert on wide range of issues including:
- The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its relevance for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers at an event organised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Moscow
- Application of the ECHR in Armenia at a five day event organised by Interights and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee for Lawyers
- Human rights course in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, for the Council of Europe
- Religious and other forms of discrimination prohibited by the ECHR at a course held in Tbilisi, Georgia
- Roma Rights and the ECHR, on behalf of the Council of Europe at a conference organised by the Greek Ombudsman in Athens
- Protecting the freedom of movement and human rights of Roma, key note speech at conference in Vienna organised by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency
- Presentations on Roma rights and European discrimination law in Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia
- ‘Gypsy Justice’ on behalf of the Council of Europe at the American Bar Association conference, Dublin
- Presentations on civil appeals procedure in English courts delivered to the Moscow Regional Court
Marc has also undertaken a significant amount of training and advisory work on behalf of the Council of Europe and the European Union including:
- ‘Support for Access to Justice in Armenia’ and specifically the development of a School for Advocates in Armenia
- Expert advice on the ECHR
- Advising on reform of the Russian civil appeals procedure
- Legal Aid and Access to Justice training in Pyatigorsk, Russia, for Chechen lawyers
- Advising on the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals e-learning programme and the creation of a website educational tool on anti-discrimination.
Frackman v SSCLG and Cuadrilla  EWHC 808 (Admin)
This was a High Court planning challenge brought by Mr Geza Frackman against the decision by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to grant Cuadrilla planning permission for fracking at a site in Lancashire. Mr Frackman argued that the Secretary of State erred because he had failed to consider the likely cumulative impacts of the proposed development by only taking into account carbon emissions from “exploration” and ignoring the indirect emissions from the production stage. He also argued the Secretary of State had acted irrationally by failing to apply the precautionary principle when deciding to grant Cuadrilla planning permission, because the public health effects of fracking are currently unknown and so cannot be regulated. The Judge rejected both grounds and Mr Frackman has applied for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal (leading Estelle Dehon).
O’Brien v South Cambridgeshire DC and SSCLG  EWHC 36 (Admin)
A claim of judicial review concerning the proper construction and application of the planning- enforcement related power of a local authority under section 70C of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and related transitional provisions. In a particularly detailed judgment, Lewis J considers the underlying statutory purpose of the power, and the question of proportionate enforcement action under Article 8 ECHR, within the context of alleged, delayed and abusive reliance by a planning authority upon an extant enforcement notice issued in 2005 (leading Irena Sabic).
Mulvenna and Smith v SSCLG and EHRC  EWHC 3494 (Admin)
These two claims for judicial review followed the judgment of Gilbart J in the case of Moore and Coates v SSCLG and EHRC  EWHC 44 (Admin) in which he found that the Secretary of State had unlawfully discriminated against Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers by recovering all Gypsy and Traveller caravan site planning appeals for his own determination. As a consequence the claimants argued that the Secretary of State should never have been in a position to decide and reject their appeals and that his unlawful recovery decision had a ‘domino effect’ which rendered his appeal decisions nullities. The EHRC agreed but Cranston J concluded that the unlawful and discriminatory recovery of their appeals did not render his subsequent decisions to dismiss them unlawful, and that having reached his decisions he was functus officio, e. that he had no power to take any further action (leading Tessa Buchanan).
Kingsley v Stockport MBC  (unreported). Lord Justice Lindblom dismissed a renewed application for permission to appeal in a judicial review challenge to the grant of planning permission for the redevelopment of Woodford aerodrome into a 920-home scheme (leading Paul Clark).
Traveller Movement v J D Wetherspoon PLC (2015) Central London County Court, 18th May 2015, HHJ Hand QC
In this landmark discrimination claim the Court held that a pub which had refused entry to Irish Travellers and Romani Gypsies and their companions following an annual conference organised by the Traveller Movement had committed direct race discrimination because the pub landlord made stereotypical assumptions that Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies were likely to cause disorder. The Court also held that the Travellers’ and Gypsies’ companions also succeeded in their claims for associative direct discrimination.
R (JM) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2465 (Admin)
This was an unsuccessful judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision to close Ashfield Young Offender Institution (YOI).
Stevens v SSCLG and Guildford BC  EWHC 792 (Admin)
This was a statutory challenge brought in respect of a planning inspector’s decision to refuse temporary planning permission for a Gypsy site. The Claimant argued that the Inspector had failed to take account of the best interests of the children in accordance with the principles laid down by Baroness Hale in the Supreme Court decision in ZH (Tanzania) v SSHD  UKSC 4. The Judge accepted that the principles were relevant and gave guidance on their application in planning cases but concluded that on the facts that the Inspector had complied with those principles (leading Alex Grigg).
Knowles v Department for Work and Pensions  EWHC 19 (Admin)
This was an unsuccessful judicial review challenge in which it was argued that the housing benefit regulations relating to the provision of housing benefit to those Gypsies and Travellers living on private sites were discriminatory and incompatible with Article 14 of the Convention (leading Desmond Rutledge).
Buckland v United Kingdom  Application No 40060/08, 18th September
In this case the ECtHR found that the Article 8 rights of a Romani Gypsy had been violated in circumstances where she had not been given the opportunity to challenge the proportionality of a decision to seek possession of her rented pitch on an authorised site before an independent tribunal. The ECtHR awarded the applicant EUR 4000 and the Welsh Government subsequently amended the law to make it compatible with the ECHR.
Harrow Community Support Limited v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 1921 (Admin)
This was the highly publicised unsuccessful judicial review challenge of the decision to deploy a high velocity missile system on the roof of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone, London as part of the air defence plan for the 2012 Olympics (leading Owen Greenhall).
R (Mary Michelle Sheridan and Others) v Basildon BC  EWHC 2938 (Admin)
This was an unsuccessful judicial review challenge of the council’s decision to take direct action to evict Irish Travellers from their plots on Dale Farm. The case received worldwide publicity and was heard at first instance by Ouseley J and Lord Justice Sullivan on appeal (leading Irena Sabic).
Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs v Meier and others  UKSC 11
New Travellers case – the Supreme Court held that a wide possession order granted to the Forestry Commission in respect of land which it owned and occupied and of which no-one was, at present, in unauthorised occupation, should be discharged and in so doing, the Supreme Court also overturned the Court of Appeal’s earlier decision in the case of Drury v Secretary of State for the Environment  EWCA Civ 200 (led by Richard Drabble QC).
R (Lisa Smith) v London Development Agency and SSTI  EWHC 1013 Admin
Gypsies and Irish Travellers – a judicial review challenge to the Compulsory Purchase Order of land used as a Gypsy site for the purposes of the Olympics.
R v Billimore  EWCA Crim 506
A successful criminal appeal against a major class A drugs conspiracy conviction in circumstances where fresh evidence had arisen which cast doubt on the veracity of the main witness for the prosecution.
R (Clarke) v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions  EWCA Civ 819 and  JPL 1365
This was a successful statutory challenge by a Romani Gypsy to a planning appeal decision in which it was established that the offer of bricks and mortar accommodation to a Gypsy with a cultural aversion to bricks and mortar could constitute a breach of Article 8 of the Convention.
R (U) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and the Secretary of State for the Home Department  1 WLR 897
A successful judicial review concerning the final warning scheme’s compatibility with article 6 of the ECHR.
Coster v UK  33 EHRR 20
This was one of five complaints brought by Gypsies and Travellers who claimed that enforcement action taken against them had breached their rights protected by articles 8 and article 1 of protocol 1 of ECHR. The seminal lead judgment can be found at Chapman v UK.
More of Marc’s notable cases can be found here.
Marc co-authors regular articles published in the Legal Action Group magazine on Gypsy and Traveller rights. In 2011 Marc wrote co-authored two articles published in the Legal Action Group magazine on Roma Rights:
- Using EU law to tackle anti-Roma discrimination – Part 1
- Using EU law to tackle anti-Roma discrimination – Part 2
Marc also wrote an update on these issues: Using EU Law to tackle anti-Roma discrimination: an update.
Marc helped write a critical review of the Conservative’s new policy on Gypsies and Travellers and he also co-authored the paper entitled Facilitating the Gypsy and Traveller way of life in England and Wales through the courts (which was presented at the international conference Romani mobilities in Europe: Multidisciplinary perspectives, held in Oxford on 14 January 2010) and the article entitled Gypsies and Travellers in the United Kingdom and Security of Tenure which was published in the Journal of the European Roma Rights Centre in August 2010 and more recently, in 2014, Marc wrote ‘Batten down the hatches‘ (published in Inside Housing).