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General Q & A unauthorised encampments

Encamping on someone's land without their consent is unlawful.

There is no legal right to trespass, however trespass is a civil rather than a criminal offence. The co-ordinated use of powers available under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows for a proportionate response to encampments based on the behaviour of the trespassers.

In certain circumstances, encamping on someone's land without their consent is not just a breach of civil law, but also criminal law.

However, all people/communities should be judged by how they behave towards landowners and others in each instance, and not by a stereotype or single view that others may have of the unauthorised occupants, in particular a view of Gypsies or Travellers generally.

You are reminded that Gypsies and Travellers are protected by law from racial discrimination.

What is the Council's position regarding unauthorised encampments?

The Council recognises and accepts the rights of Travellers and Gypsies, but also those of the people on whose land unauthorised camping takes place.

Gypsies and Travellers are protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010.

If an illegal encampment takes place the Council and other official agencies will work to try to balance the rights of all those involvedThe Council will work with the landowners to address this matter under the established laws in place.

What do we do when an unauthorised encampment is on council-owned land?

If a group of people are camped on Council land without consent, Section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives local authorities in England and Wales power to give a direction to leave the land.

The power applies only to land forming part of a highway, any other unoccupied land or occupied land on which people are residing without the consent of the occupier. It is an offence to fail to comply with such a direction.

If the direction is not complied with, the local authority can apply to a Magistrates' Court for an order requiring the removal of vehicles and any occupants from the land (section 78).

In this scenario responsibility for eviction lies with the local authority and officers or agents of the local authority may use reasonable force to evict.

It is usually recommended that the police attend such evictions in order to prevent a breach of the peace.

There are common law powers to evict those who do not have permission to camp on land. All landowners can use their common law rights to recover land; the tort of trespass against property (Law of Tort) This allows the person in possession of land to direct a trespasser to leave and should they not leave it allows them to use no more force than is necessary to evict him or her.

However, this should only be done with the assistance of a certified bailiff and police should be in attendance.

Even though this power is available, in practice, mindful of the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Public Sector Equality Duty arising from the Equality Act 2010, it is not recommended that an eviction using this power is carried out and it is preferred instead, that if the threat of this action is not successful, that the authority apply for an order from the magistrates before enforcing eviction.

What if the encampment is on someone else's land?

If the encampment is not on Council land, it is the landowner's responsibility to move the group of people on.

The Council will liaise with the landowner to offer support and guidance where applicable. The Council will not take action against the trespassers unless it is in the public interest to do so.

What can the police do?

The Police also have powers contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. However, following guidance issued in 2018 police will usually only use these powers when certain circumstances are met.

Trespass is a civil matter and not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibilities of the landowner and not the Police. However, police will assess each incident of unauthorised camping and, under Department for Communities and Local Government and Home Office guidelines, must act proportionately.

The Police have powers to move Gypsies/Travellers off land where criminal activity by Gypsies/Travellers can be established - in the same way as crime committed by the settled community has to be proven.

Police also have discretionary powers to direct Travellers off land where group behaviour is contravening the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

In certain circumstances - for example, where the Gypsies/Travellers have with them one or more vehicles and caravans and damage has occurred - officers may use powers under Section 61 and 62 (a-e) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The Police are obliged to act in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and Equality Act 2010. The police act in accordance with guidance set out by the National Police Chiefs Council.

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