Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war

The Met. Police and The Guardian

At least for now, the Metropolitan Police has called off its application for The Guardian to disclose journalistic sources - see the Met. Police News Statement of 20th September.  As discussed in the previous post (here), the application was to be based on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 s.9.   In a further development, the Met. has been called to explain its actions to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee - see The Guardian 21st September.    The Guardian's revelations about phone-hacking are a good example of investigative journalism bringing iniquity to the attention of the public.  The protection offered by law to journalistic sources is important - see Law and Lawyers post.  However, there is also an important point of principle relating to the confidentiality of information in the possession of the Police.  The law, rightly, also protects that information from unauthorised disclosure and prosecutions under the Official Secrets Acts are a possibility.  At times, these principles come into collision.  However, at least for now, the dogs of war remain in their kennels.

Dale Farm, Oak Lane, Billericay -  a serious issue

The stand-off between Basildon Council and "travellers" ensconced at Dale Farm almost came to a head on Monday 19th September but, after a further High Court hearing, the bailiffs were stood down for the time being.  What of the actual decisions in the courts?  Three years ago, the matter was considered by Collins J in McCarthy and others v Basildon District Council [2008] EWHC 987 (Admin).  The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the case.  Collins J, who was presented with 23 lever arch files of material, gave a very detailed history of the situation and held that enforcement could not proceed immediately.  He concluded by saying:

65.  There can be no doubt that the claimants cannot remain where they are and that the time must come when they will have to leave, whether voluntarily or by means of forcible eviction. Despite the difficulties they face and the absence at present of sufficient sites to meet their needs, Travellers and Gypsies must appreciate that the law will not tolerate developments without planning permission being obtained, particularly on Green Belt land, and will be likely to uphold enforcement action where the individual circumstances of those affected have been properly considered against the harm to the environment and to relations with the community. Nevertheless, it is necessary for all relevant matters to be properly taken into account and it is impossible not to have some sympathy with the problems created for Gypsies and Travellers by the lack of sufficient sites to cater for their proper needs.  

66.  I have no doubt that a decision to enforce under s.178 is likely to be unassailable in respect of most and perhaps all of the claimants in due course. But there are concerns which I have already spelt out. It seems to me that the approach to need has been too restrictive and that, following in particular the EERA report (albeit not accepted by the Council), further consideration should be given to whether any sites can be found in the district and whether any families can be allowed to remain for the time being. In addition, I do not think the possible effects of the homelessness duty have been sufficiently dealt with in the advice given to the committee. Finally, I think that the approach has been that the sites should be cleared rather than a consideration of whether there are any individual families whose circumstances are such, whether because of serious ill-health or the needs of their children, that in their individual cases eviction would be disproportionate. I am not to be taken as saying that there necessarily are any such, but I think that possibility should have been drawn to the committee's attention. 

67.  I am conscious that this decision may mean no more than that a little more time is given to the claimants and the Council may feel that yet further delay is to be deprecated. Nonetheless, the decision, whichever way it goes, must be based on consideration of all that is relevant. But in the circumstances for the reasons I have given I am persuaded that the decisions of 13 December 2007 cannot stand.
    The case went to appeal - Basildon District Council v McCarthy and other applicants [2009] EWCA Civ 13 - Pill, Lloyd and Moses LJJ.   Basildon Council won the appeal.

    This matter has attracted international attention - see Institute of Race relations "Gypsy and Traveller evictions: Dale Farm odyssey continues" - Frances Webber 30th November 2010.  Whatever the British government's stance, there is a very serious problem to be addressed.  Steps taken, by various governments, have not proved to be sufficient to address this growing problem.  As the Court of Appeal pointed out:

    Different approaches to the problem have been attempted over the years. The duty on local authorities to provide sites was abolished in 1994. The present duty is to make provision for sites in development plans and to perform duties under the Housing Act 1996 ("the 1996 Act"). The current guidance from the government is in Office of the Deputy Prime Minister ("ODPM") Circular 01/2006 entitled "Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Sites".

    Channel 4's Dispatches programme looked at the problem on Monday evening 19th September - "The Fight for Dale Farm

    The film showed furious residents across Britain campaigning about the way gypsies pitch camp illegally in local parks, the damage that they cause to public and private property as well as the mess and destruction that they leave behind.  Attention was drawn to criminality as well as, in some cases, a threat to public health by the use of wooded areas as toilets.  Some local authority sites were also shown to have absymally poor facilities.  The programme also questioned whether Government proposals to crack down on unauthorised development will change the situation for better or worse, and explored the ever growing issues that local councils face as and when, under present government policy, they are given more freedom to decide on just how many places should be allocated for travellers in their areas.

    Again, the dogs of war were brought out but returned, temporarily at least, to their kennels.  As and when the eviction is complete, the letter of the law will have been upheld but the problem will remain unsolved and will undoubtedly move on to some other site.

    Addendum 26th September:   Dale Farm residents win temporary reprieve - The Guardian

    Cry "Havoc !" and let slip the dogs of war ... William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 1.


    1. I remember as a small boy before the war, in the village where my grandparents lived, seeing a genuine gypsy caravan parked at the side of the road. The locals respected even feared these people - but they lived together harmoniously, the gypsies did odd jobs and soon moved on. They did not move about in great numbers. Now we have a group of people of Irish origin, who call themselves travellers, but do not seem to travel! They encamp in large groups, in what appear to be fixed settlements; they have little regard for the planning laws, and make little contribution to the local community. Indeed it has been reported that some have substantial property in Ireland. I would not object to provision being made via sites for small groups who were expected to move on in true nomadic form. But the legal system is becoming a laughing stock. There is a controversy at present over proposed revisions to the planning laws. At the same time, one group are showing two fingers to the law as it is. What a farce.

    2. There is no definite figure as to how many travellers are in the country. In August 2010, The Telegraph published an article - Number of travellers' caravans leapt under Labour - quoting a growth in caranvans from 12796 at the start of 1997 to 18355 at the start of 2010.