Here are some frequently asked questions which we hope will explain what action can be taken and what powers councils and the police have in relation to illegal encampments. Councils and police have powers to evict unlawful trespassers but must follow specific procedures if they are to successfully obtain an eviction order from the courts.
Does the Council have a duty to move gypsies / travellers when they are camped without the landowner's permission?
If gypsies/travellers are camped on Council land, the Council can evict them. If they are on private land, it is usually the landowner's responsibility. The Government has advised that when gypsies/travellers are not causing a problem, the site may be tolerated. If travellers are camped on or at the side of a road, it is usually the responsibility of North Yorkshire County Council (as opposed to Craven District Council).
Councils must follow a set procedure in terms of proving ownership of the land and details of the illegal encampment that will enable them to successfully obtain the necessary authority from the courts to order the gypsies/travellers to leave the site.
How long will it take for the gypsies / travellers to be removed?
This will depend on 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.
Can the court refuse to grant the council an order to move gypsies / travellers on?
Yes. If there is an unavoidable reason for the Gypsies / Travellers to stay on the site or if the court believes that the council has failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the Gypsies / Travellers. The council must try to find out this information before going to court.
If gypsies / travellers camp on private land, what can the landowner do?
Talk to them to see if a leaving date can be agreed. Take proceedings in the County Court under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 to obtain a Court Order for their eviction. There must be a minimum of two clear days between service of documents and the Court hearing.
What if the landowner decides to let them stay on the land temporarily?
Unless the landowner has already obtained planning permission for a caravan site or is a farmer and the gypsies/travellers are helping with fruit picking etc., then the landowner could be in breach of the Planning Acts and the Acts dealing with the licensing of caravan sites. You may wish to seek further advice from the Council's Environmental Health service. This department has powers of enforcement and will initially deal with illegal encampments.
What can the police do?
The police will visit the site and in certain circumstances the police may use powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. These powers will only be used in situations of serious criminality or public disorder not capable of being addressed by normal criminal legislation and in which the occupation of the land is a relevant factor. It is for the police alone to decide if Section 61 is to be utilised.
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 duty of the police is to preserve the peace and prevent crime. Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibility of the landowner and not the police. The police will investigate criminal and public disorder.