On Friday 10th July 2020, Gypsy and Traveller campaign organisations celebrated at news that Harlow District Council have withdrawn their injunction against Traveller camps.
In 2015, Harlow District Council and Essex County Council were the first local authorities to obtain an injunction protecting vast swathes of land in their areas against unauthorised encampments. Harlow District Council, with Essex County Council no longer taking an active part in the matter, sought variation of the injunction to continue it beyond its final date at a virtual hearing before Mrs. Justice Tipples on Friday 10th July 2020.
Friends Families and Travellers instructed Chris Johnson of Community Law Partnership to put in written submissions before the hearing. The submissions put in on behalf of Friends Families and Travellers centred on “persons unknown” listed in the injunction application, in other words Gypsies and Travellers who have to resort to unauthorised encampments in general.
Detailed analysis of the criteria arising from the Court of Appeal case of London Borough of Bromley –v- Persons Unknown, London Gypsies and Travellers and Others was carried out. It was concluded in the submissions that, with regard to persons unknown, the criteria arising from the Bromley case had not been met. To take just one example, there is no transit site in the whole of Essex and Lord Justice Coulson, giving the leading judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Bromley case, emphasised the importance of transit site provision.
Additionally, though there was a negotiated stopping policy that had been put in place, it was highlighted that there was not a single example of a negotiated stopping agreement actually having been used and no real attempt to explain how the Government guidance on unauthorised encampments and the Human Rights Act 1988 might be complied with if an injunction was put in place. Despite the submissions on behalf of Friends Families and Travellers, Harlow District Council decided to proceed with the injunction application.
The hearing on 10th July took place remotely. Harlow District Council were represented by Caroline Bolton of Counsel. During the morning’s session, the Judge raised a number of concerns about the application. On returning from lunch at 2 p.m., Counsel for Harlow discontinued the application. This means that Harlow’s injunction came to an end on that date.
Chris Johnson of Community Law Partnership, Victoria Gilmore of Friends Families and Travellers, Ilinca Diaconescu of London Gypsies & Travellers and Sherrie Smith of Gypsies and Travellers Essex attended the virtual hearing as observers.
Commenting on the news, Chris Johnson, Partner at Community Law Partnership said:
“We trust that this will finally send a clear message to those local authorities who still think that it is a good idea to take wide injunction action against “persons unknown” regarding Gypsy and Traveller encampments that such injunctions should not be sought and that any applications for fresh injunctions or for renewed injunctions that are proceeding should be withdrawn.”
Adding to these remarks, Victoria Gilmore, Policy and Project Officer at Friends Families and Travellers said:
“Finally, common sense prevails! It’s shameful and inhumane to see councils ploughing huge sums of public money into legal action against Travellers when there is a simple solution – meet your planning duty to nomadic communities. It’s futile identifying places Travellers can’t stop if you’ve never taken the time to work out where they can stop. Everybody needs a place to live.”
Comments from, Sherrie Smith, Director of Gypsies and Travellers Essex
“Gypsies and Travellers across Essex and beyond welcome this fantastic news. Travelling in modern times is hard enough without these discriminatory injunctions. We are looking forward to a more welcoming environment across Essex. If Essex County Council as they say are looking to improve the welfare and outcomes of Gypsies and Travellers, they should look to establish adequate temporary and permanent site provision.”
Adding to this, Ilinca Diaconescu, Policy Officer at London Gypsy Travellers
“Over the last two years we have been working to challenge injunction orders granted with great speed, which create a domino effect of excluding Gypsies and Travellers from vast areas of London and other parts of the country. The Bromley case in which we were able to intervene successfully, advances the recognition and protection of the nomadic way of life in the UK. The judgment sets a high standard for councils seeking injunctions and stresses the need to put in place adequate and safe provision. We are pleased that the Harlow injunction application was withdrawn and we hope this sends a message about the much stricter requirements that councils have to meet when seeking such orders.”
Notes for Editor
About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)
Friends, Families and Travellers is a leading national charity that works on behalf of all Gypsies, Roma and Travellers regardless of ethnicity, culture or background.
Sami McLaren, Communications Officer
Tel: 07436 228910 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Briefing for journalists: Accommodation issues facing Gypsies and Travellers in England, November 2020. View here.