Gypsies and travellers
The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to treat someone less favourably because of a range of protected characteristics, including race, nationality or ethnic or national origins. The following of a nomadic lifestyle is lawful; it is recognised and protected through legislation. Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers were granted protection under the previous Race Relations Act and continue to be protected under the 2010 Act as well as the Human Rights Act 1998.
Travellers occasionally pass through Puriton parish. Sometimes a group will stop momentarily before moving on, but occasionally they will remain for longer periods. Some longer-term encampments, when not addressed appropriately, have caused problems for the parish with regards waste disposal and conflict between the travellers and residents.
Action by the Parish Council
The Parish Council owns no land and has no powers it can use to evict travellers from others’ land. The Parish Council can assist by sharing information, including information volunteered by residents, with the landowner and the Police.
Travellers on private land
Encampment on private land is usually the landowner's responsibility. The government has advised that when gypsies/travellers are not causing a problem, the site may be tolerated. However, Sedgemoor District Council should be notified to ensure the site does not first require consents.
Sedgemoor District Council will not usually intervene to evict travellers from private land. It falls to the landowner to take initial action against the travellers. In some circumstances the District Council can take action against the landowner where there is a contravention of planning or license terms by the landowner in failing to seek eviction.
The landowner should talk to the travellers to attempt to agree a leaving date. If this fails then the landowner should seek legal advice regarding civil proceedings in the County Court to obtain a Court Order for their eviction.
Travellers on Public Land
Travellers cannot be immediately removed by a council from public land. The council must:
1) show that the gypsies/travellers are on the land without consent;
2) make enquiries regarding the general health, welfare and children's education;
3) ensure that the Human Rights Acts 1998 has been fully complied with;
4) follow a set procedure in terms of proving ownership of land and details of the illegal encampment that will enable them to
5) successfully obtain the necessary authority from the Courts to order the gypsies/travellers to leave the site
The time taken to remove the travellers will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. The council will need to take account of the issues outlined above as well as how soon they can obtain a Court hearing date. Local proceedings have generally been known to take about a week, but it can take longer.
The Court can refuse to grant a court order if there is a justifiable reason for the gypsies/travellers to stay on the site, or if the Court believes that the council have failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the gypsies/travellers.
The Corporate Scrutiny Committee at Sedgemoor District Council is looking at the Traveller situation across the district, including processes and procedures in eviction.
Simple trespass is a civil matter and not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers is ordinarily the responsibilities of the landowner and not the Police.
However, in certain circumstances police can remove travellers using powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These powers require certain conditions to be met and tend only to be used in situations involving crime or public disorder. The mere presence of an encampment without any aggravating factors should not normally create an expectation that police will use eviction powers. The police are bound by the Human Rights Act and may be constrained to avoid using section 61 in circumstances where it would preclude welfare considerations from being applied by the civil courts. The relevant sections of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 can be read here.
The police are not required to use their powers, but tend to do so where:
i) Local amenities are deprived to communities or ther is a significant impact on the environment
Forming an encampment on any part of a recreation ground, public park, school field, village green, or depriving the public use of car parks. The fact that other sections of the community are being deprived of the amenities must be evident before action is taken.
ii) There is local disruption to the economy
To include an encampment on an industrial estate, if it disrupts workers or customers, or agricultural land, if this results in the loss of use of the land for its normal purpose.
iii) There is other significant disruption to the local community or environment
This might include where other behaviour, which is directly related to those present at an encampment, is so significant that a prompt eviction by police becomes necessary, rather than by other means.
iv) There is a danger to life
Such as an encampment adjacent to a motorway, where there could be a danger of children or animals straying onto the carriageway.
v) There is a need to take preventative action
Where a group of trespassers have persistently displayed anti-social behaviour at previous sites and it is reasonably believed that such behaviour will be displayed at this newly established site. This reasoning will take on greater emphasis if the land occupied is privately owned, as the landowner will be responsible for the cleansing and repair of their property.