High Court rules against local authority encampment ban

Friday 17 May 2019

An application by Bromley Council for an injunction prohibiting camping on 171 open spaces and car parks in the borough has been refused by the High Court.

London Gypsies and Travellers were the interveners, represented pro bono by Marc Willers QC and Tessa Buchanan, both of Garden Court. 

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The ruling could have major implications. Over the past two years, 34 councils - including 14 in London - have taken out similar “wide” injunctions which threaten all Gypsies and Travellers with fines and imprisonment if they camp on open land within their boundaries.

London Gypsies and Travellers (LGT) has long argued that borough-wide injunction orders are a disproportionate and discriminatory response to the accommodation crisis of Gypsies and Travellers. The injunction orders are usually against “persons unknown” and LGT says they effectively criminalise the way of life of a whole group of people recognised as ethnic minorities under the Equality Act 2010.

Now, the High Court has backed their stance, following LGT’s intervention in Bromley Council’s application for a wide injunction. LGT were represented pro bono by Marc Willers QC and Tessa Buchanan, barristers at Garden Court Chambers, and by Chris Johnson, solicitor at The Community Law Partnership.

Bromley had sought what it described as a “de facto borough-wide injunction” to prevent people from occupying or camping on parks and car parks. The High Court refused to grant this and instead made a much more limited injunction preventing people from fly-tipping, depositing substantial amounts of waste, or entering parks and car parks in vehicles for the purposes of waste disposal or fly-tipping. 

The judgment has implications for other local authorities who have obtained, or are seeking, similar injunctions. The judge expressed doubt about making the injunction on the basis of s187B of The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (breach of planning control) given the existence of permitted development rights. In addition, the judge made clear her concerns about the impact of these injunctions on the ability of Gypsies and Travellers to pursue their traditional way of life, particularly given the shortage of sites.  Although many injunctions of this nature have been granted, this was the first case in which the arguments on the other side were given in full, and the application failed.

Debby Kennett, Chief Executive of London Gypsies and Travellers, said she was absolutely delighted with the outcome:

“The Judge recognised that Gypsies and Travellers have been present in this country for hundreds of years and that their traditional way of life is protected under human rights and equalities law. She referred to the shortage of sites and stopping places and also the cumulative impact of these injunctions on the Gypsy and Traveller community across the country.”

Marc Willers QC and Tessa Buchanan are members of the Garden Court Chambers Romani Gypsy and Traveller Rights Team

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