LANDMARK RULING FOR GYPSIES AND TRAVELLERS
The other week the House of Lords allowed an Appeal by Mr William Doherty against a Possession Order granted to Birmingham City Council for his eviction from the site on which he has lived for some 20 years. The Council had stated that they wished to refurbish the site and that this would not be feasible with Mr Doherty and his family remaining there. No alternative offer of accommodation was made. In December 2004 the High Court awarded a Possession Order to the Council and did not allow Mr Doherty to defend the matter on the basis that domestic law provided no proper security of tenure for Gypsies and Travellers on local authority sites. All the Council had to do was to properly terminate the licence and then obtain a court order without having to rely on any facts or allegations. In December 2006 the Court of Appeal refused Mr Doherty’s initial Appeal but this decision has now been overturned by the House of Lords.
Firstly, the House of Lords made it clear that they found the exclusion of Gypsies and Travellers on local authority sites from the protection of the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to be incompatible with the terms of Article 8 of the European Convention (the right to respect for private and family life and home). But for the fact that the Government are on the cusp of changing the law by now including local authority Gypsy/Traveller sites within the provisions of the Mobile Homes Act, the Lords would have declared UK law inconsistent with the Convention.
Secondly, the House of Lords quashed the possession order made against Mr Doherty and have sent the matter back to the High Court for Mr Doherty to have the opportunity of presenting a defence to the possession action. This defence will involve the hearing of oral evidence and the assessment of the proportionality of the decision to seek eviction. Mr Doherty’s solicitor said: “It is hoped that the Council will now reconsider their initial decision to seek possession action against this family. The decision will have wide ramifications not only for Gypsies and Travellers on local authority sites but also for others in dire housing need.”
Mr Doherty was represented by Jan Luba QC of Garden Court Chambers in London, as his Senior Counsel, by Alex Offer of Park Court Chambers in Leeds as his Junior Counsel and by Chris Johnson of Community Law Partnership Solicitors in Birmingham as his Solicitor.