Dear Lord Chancellor,
Re: Eviction Actions against Gypsies and Travellers
The Community Law Partnership is a Legal Aid firm, specialising in housing, public law, and community care. We have a specialist team which advises Gypsies and Travellers throughout England and Wales. As you may be aware, thousands of Gypsies and Travellers remain on unauthorised encampments due to the continuing failure of local authorities to provide sufficient permanent or temporary stopping places for them. During the current Coronavirus emergency, and given the guidance from the Government on “staying at home”, it is vital that Gypsies and Travellers on unauthorised encampments are allowed to stay in one place during this period of lockdown. Either they should be allowed to remain where they currently are, or the local authority should urgently find a more suitable place where they can go for the time being. In this regard, it is also vital that services are provided, such as water and sanitation (e.g. portaloos).
We are concerned to have heard, over the recent 2-3 weeks, about evictions or threatened evictions against Gypsies and Travellers. We are pleased to note that new Practice Direction 51Z which supplements the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 states that possession proceedings under CPR Part 55 will be stayed for a period of 90 days. Part 55 proceedings are one form of action taken by local authorities and other landowners against Gypsy and Traveller encampments. However, this means that eviction action under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, s.61, s.62 and s.62A-E remains available to the police and eviction action under the 1994 Act, ss77 – 78 remains available to local authorities. We understand from a case we have dealt with in Gloucestershire that the local Magistrates have stated that they will not be holding such hearings during the period of lockdown. We would ask you to issue a directive to Magistrates’ Courts indicating that such eviction action should not proceed during the period of lockdown. As we say above, it is vital that Gypsies and Travellers (for their own safety and the safety of others) should be enabled to remain where they are during this period of lockdown and should be provided with services (as advised in both English and Welsh Guidance on the question of unauthorised encampments). We know that many Gypsy and Traveller organisations have been pressing the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for guidance for Gypsies and Travellers on roadside encampments. We would also ask you to liaise with the MHCLG on this issue.
We look forward to hearing from you urgently on this pressing matter.
We would be happy to provide further information or to discuss the matter further if required.
Chris Johnson on behalf of
The Community Law Partnership Limited