A judgment published today harshly criticises the use of wide injunctions as a blanket ban against Gypsies and Travellers who have nowhere to stop. Wide injunctions against “persons unknown” have been used by local authorities for the past six years to prevent Gypsies and Travellers from stopping on public land, despite councils not making any adequate provision of sites and stopping places.
This landmark ruling, in the case of London Borough or Barking and Dagenham and Others v Persons Unknown, marks the end of wide injunctions against “persons unknown”. The judgment builds on a previous ruling on the Bromley legal challenge, which found in January last year that borough-wide injunctions are “inherently problematic” and they “comprise a potential breach of both the [European] Convention [on Human Rights] and the Equality Act”.
In his judgement today, Mr Justice Nicklin ruled that wide injunctions can only be granted against individuals who can be named or properly identified. Councils need to demonstrate they have notified them about the legal proceedings. Secondly, he ruled that wide injunctions cannot apply to anyone who was not notified about the final Court hearing. This means that any Gypsies or Travellers who come on the land at a later date will not be covered by the injunction.
He also highlighted that “a significant number of the […] Claims were allowed to go to sleep following the grant of an interim injunction, and no local authority, which had been granted a Traveller Injunction, took steps to return claims to Court for reconsideration following the decisions of LB Bromley and Canada Goose.”
At the High Court hearing in January 2021, 13 local authorities across England defended their wide injunctions. LGT, Friends, Families and Travellers and the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups acted as interveners in the case with legal representation from Garden Court Chambers and Community Law Partnership. Following the judgment today, it is likely that all injunctions against “persons unknown” will be discharged.
The ruling also has serious implications for the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which seeks to criminalise the nomadic way of life, and could be used in a legal challenge if the Bill becomes law.
Debby Kennett, Chief Executive of London Gypsies and Travellers said: “We are proud to be involved in this hugely important case which scrutinised the catch-all injunctions which have effectively banned Gypsies and Travellers from stopping in large areas of the country. It has been a long process and this final hearing was a result of councils ignoring the Bromley and Canada Goose judgments. They have now been seriously criticised for doing so. The judgment reinforces the fact that Gypsies and Travellers have the right to a nomadic way of life and we continue to push for positive alternatives to evictions and injunctions.”
Mattey Mitchell, who is Romany and a Campaigns Officer at Friends, Families and Travellers said: “This is a wonderful victory for justice, fairness and equality in a nation that prides itself on these values. Collective punishment should be a thing of the past, especially when it impacts communities already facing such harsh inequalities. Justice Nicklin’s judgement today is a breath of fresh air in what can sometimes feel like a hopelessly hostile environment.”
Abbie Kirkby, Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers said: “The inhumane approach of acquiring an injunction against all Gypsies and Travellers has once against been recognised by the courts as being unlawful. We are pleased, as joint interveners in the case, to have had the opportunity to assist the court in understanding the discriminatory and disproportionate nature of these injunctions, which are a symptom of the complete failure by local authorities to identify suitable land on which Gypsies and Travellers can stop. This judgement comes at a particularly crucial time as measures which essentially criminalise encampments are set to be introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. There are common sense solutions to addressing the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers, that work with families, not against them.”
Marc Willers QC, Garden Courts Chambers, said: “Mr Justice Nicklin’s judgment is a tour de force and will be required reading for any lawyer practising in this field. The decision reaffirms the fundamental principle that final injunctions do not bind non-parties. The Judge rejected the submission that injunctions against Gypsies and Travellers were an exception to this rule. The decision also emphasises the need for rigorous compliance with the rules of civil procedure, with the Judge concluding that there were grounds to suspect that there had been material and serious breaches of procedure in a significant number of cases brought by local authorities. The judgment also recognises the right of Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers to respect for their cultural traditions, including their enshrined right to travel, as emphasised by Lord Justice Coulson in the Bromley case in 2020.”’
The full judgment can be found here.
Background information about wide injunctions can be found here.
A press release from Community Law Partnership can be found here.