A High Court judge has refused an application by Bromley Council to extend an interim injunction prohibiting camping on 171 open spaces and car parks in the borough.
Garden Court Chambers, whose Marc Willers QC and Tessa Buchanan acted pro bono for interveners London Gypsies and Travellers (LGT), said the ruling could have “major implications”.
It pointed out that over the past two years, 34 councils - including 14 in London - had taken out similar “wide” injunctions which threaten all Gypsies and Travellers with fines and imprisonment if they camp on open land within their boundaries.
The group has maintained 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 argues they effectively criminalise the way of life of a whole group of people recognised as ethnic minorities under the Equality Act 2010.
The High Court granted Bromley a 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.
However, the requirement restraining the occupation of the council’s open spaces by caravans was discharged.
Cllr Kate Lymer, Executive Councillor for Public Protection and Enforcement at Bromley, said: “We will always look to exercise all our legal powers when taking action to stop illegal encampments and no one should be in any doubt that this will continue. We will carefully examine the full legal judgement, including the possibility of appealing this decision but clearly we are disappointed that the court has not chosen to fully extend the interim injunction order following our previous successful interim application.
“Residents will understand that it is not only the associated flytipping of illegal encampments that is of concern to the council but the damage to greenspaces and the environment as well. It is also the incidences of criminal damage that often accompany such encampments, with broken gates, locks and fence posts also being a feature of such activities, with all these costs and valuable policing time ultimately being borne by the residents and taxpayers.”
Garden Court said: “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: “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.”
Willers and Buchanan were instructed by Chris Johnson, solicitor at The Community Law Partnership.