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London borough secures possession order against groups camping on Clapham Common

The London Borough of Lambeth has secured an order for possession against occupiers camping on Clapham Common.

The council is the freehold owner of Clapham Common, a small part of which was being occupied. Two groups were involved: the Campaign for Truth and Justice; and “Lovedown”.

The camp was first established on 18 June by individuals who had been evicted from Shepherd’s Bush Green. Others had since joined them. An officer for Lambeth had found approximately 30 tents and about 25 individuals on 22 June.

Lambeth said the camp was generating complaints from local residents and sought to recover possession.

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In London Borough of Lambeth v Grant & Ors (Rev 1) [2021] EWHC 1962 (QB) Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that:

(a) The grant of the possession order sought would interfere with the Article 10 and 11 rights of the occupiers.

(b) However, the extent of the interference was limited given that:

(i) they had already been able to express their views through continuous occupation of the site for the best part of a month;

(ii) there was no evidence that Clapham Common had any special significance to them; and

(iii) an order for possession would not prevent them from continuing to express their views and engage with the public by means other than camping on the Common.

(c) Against the interference with the occupier's Article 10 and 11 rights, it was necessary to weigh the facts that the occupation:

(i) interfered with important rights of the public to use and enjoy part of a public open space, which had been and were of special significance in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic;

(ii) was in breach of Byelaws made by a democratically accountable authority under powers conferred by Parliament; and

(iii) was likely to make other users of the space understandably resentful and aggrieved and to undermine respect for the Byelaws more generally.

(d) These matters taken together justified the conclusion that there was a "pressing social need" to make the possession order. The limited interference with the occupiers' Article 10 and 11 rights was justifiable and proportionate.

The judge also considered of his own motion whether any lesser order would suffice, in accordance with the principles in Samede at [51]-[55].

He considered whether he should make an order permitting the occupation to continue until 19 July on the basis that the occupiers might perceive its continuation to be unnecessary after that date.  [One of the defendants had suggested that the lifting of lockdown restrictions might impact on the length of time of the camp]

“But, even if the planned relaxation of restrictions on 19 July goes ahead as announced, there can be no certainty that any of the occupiers would ultimately take the view that it was unnecessary to continue the occupation after that date. On the basis of the submissions made to me, it seems very unlikely that all of them would,” he said.

“Similarly, because the occupiers have differing aims and approaches and are a constantly shifting group, it would not be practically possible for undertakings to be given which bound them all. In any event, an order granting anything less than full possession would give rise to very substantial enforcement difficulties, with concomitant public costs.”

This meant, Mr Justice Chamberlain said, there was no realistic alternative to the order sought by the council.

The judge concluded: “I have been favourably impressed by the level-headed and reasonable submissions from some of those in occupation. I very much hope that they and their colleagues will recognise that their points have been heard and their rights and interests taken into account, even though the rights and interests of others have prevailed. It would be in everyone's interests if they were now to leave the camp peacefully and of their own accord. Ultimately, however, orders of the Court must be obeyed and can be enforced.”

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