Gypsy Roma Traveller Leeds
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Judgement from the European Court of Human Rights on Travellers.
Leeds Travellers, Jim and Esther Connors, in standing up for their rights have won a major case at the European Court of Human Rights, which will benefit all Travellers in the UK.
The family were evicted after living on Cottingley Site for 14 years. The Council alleged 'nuisance' from their older sons and as they were licensees terminated their licence without having to prove the alleged 'nuisance'. The family denied causing 'nuisance' and yet their license was terminated and they were forcibly evicted. They have been living on the roadside and suffered great hardship over the last four years.
The photograph above is of Jim and Esther's trailers on their plot at Cottingley Springs a few days before they were evicted on 1st August 2000.
This judgement will ensure that all Travellers in the UK living on caravan sites will now have better protection from summary eviction.
It has also made a significant difference to all legislation referring to Travellers as the Court found that the UK must facilitate the Gypsy way of life
"The Court observed that the vulnerable position of Gypsies as a minority meant that some special consideration had to be given to their needs and their different lifestyle both in the relevant regulatory framework and in reaching decisions in particular cases".
Judgement from the European Court of Human Rights on Travellers Leeds Travellers, Jim and Esther Connors, in standing up for their rights have won a major case at the Court of Human Rights, which will benefit all Travellers in the UK.
This photograph is of Jim and Esther's trailers on their plot at Cottingley Springs a few days before they were evicted on 1st August 2004 This judgement will ensure that all Travellers in the UK living on caravan sites will now have the right to be tenants and have the protection that affords from summary eviction.
It has also made a significant difference to all legislation referring to Travellers as the Court found that the UK must facilitate the Gypsy way of life.
The Court observed that the vulnerable position of Gypsies as a minority meant that some special consideration had to be given to their needs and their different lifestyle both in the relevant regulatory framework and in reaching decisions in particular cases"
A summary of the judgement can be read below or downloaded via the link below.
Download summary (Word Document)
European Court of Human Rights
Judgment in the case of Connors v. the United Kingdom
The European Court of Human Rights has today Thursday 27th May 2004 notified in writing a judgment in the case of Connors v the United Kingdom (application no. 66746/01).
The Court held unanimously that:
there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights;
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court awarded the applicant 14,000 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage and EUR 21,643 for costs and expenses.
The applicant, James Connors, is a British national, born in 1955, who lives in or about Leeds.
The applicant and his family are Gypsies, who led a traditional travelling lifestyle. However, they claimed that they suffered so much from harassment and from being moved on with ever increasing frequency that they settled on the local authority's Gypsy site at Cottingley Springs in Leeds (England), where they lived permanently for about 13 years. In February 1997 they moved on, complaining about, among other things, violence and disturbances preventing them from sleeping at night and the children from playing safely during the day. They moved into a rented house but were unable to adapt.
In October 1998 the applicant and his wife returned to Cottingley Springs and were licensed to occupy a plot at the site provided they, their family and guests did not cause a "nuisance" to those living on the site or in its vicinity. On 29 March 1999 the applicant's adult daughter Margaret Connors was granted a licence to occupy the adjacent plot, where she lived with Michael Maloney. The applicant's adult sons were frequent visitors to the site.
On 31 January 2000 notice to quit was served on the family requiring them to vacate both plots, on the ground that Michael Maloney and the applicant's children - including his adult sons - misbehaved and caused considerable nuisance at the site. The applicant disputed the allegations. On 20 March 2000 the local council issued proceedings for summary possession of both plots.
At this stage, the applicant and his wife lived with their four young children - Charles, Michael, Daniel and Thomas - aged 14, 13, ten and four months respectively. Thomas had kidney problems and the applicant's wife, who was asthmatic, had suffered several attacks requiring visits to hospital. The applicant, who had been having chest pains, was waiting for a hospital appointment. Daniel had settled well into full-time education at the nearby primary school, and the others were receiving assistance, including teaching at home.
In the early hours of 1 August 2000 the council evicted the family, in an operation which lasted five hours. The caravan the family owned was not returned, the applicant claimed, until late that afternoon. On 3 August the council returned their possessions, which were dumped on the roadside some distance away from the applicant's caravan.
The applicant alleged that the family received no assistance or advice as to where they could go, except for an offer of accommodation at Bridlington (on the east coast of England) which failed to take into account the family's local community ties; they had lived in the Leeds area for some 20 to 30 years.
The applicant stated that, since the eviction, his family had been required to move on repeatedly and the stress and uncertainty had contributed to his wife's decision to move into a house and to their separation in May 2001. Following the eviction Daniel had not returned to school.
The applicant complained, in particular, that he was not given the opportunity to challenge in court the allegations made against him which were the basis for his family's eviction and that - unlike the owners of privately run sites, housing associations and local authority landlords -local authorities running Gypsy sites were not required to prove allegations against tenants (under the Mobile Homes Act 1983). He relied on Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life), 14 (prohibition of discrimination), 6 (right to a fair hearing) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property).
The Court observed that the vulnerable position of Gypsies as a minority meant that some special consideration had to be given to their needs and their different lifestyle both in the relevant regulatory framework and in reaching decisions in particular cases. To that extent, there was a positive obligation on the United Kingdom to facilitate the Gypsy way of life.
The seriousness of what was at stake for the applicant was not in doubt. He and his family were evicted from the site where they had lived, with a short absence, for some 14 to 15 years, with consequent difficulties in finding a lawful alternative location for their caravans, in coping with health problems and young children and in ensuring continuation in the children's education. The family was, in effect, rendered homeless, with the adverse consequences on security and well-being which that entailed.
The central issue in the case was whether, in the circumstances, the legal framework applicable to the occupation of pitches on local authority Gypsy sites provided the applicant with sufficient procedural protection of his rights.
The serious interference with the applicant's rights under Article 8 required, in the Court's opinion, particularly weighty reasons of public interest by way of justification. The material before the Court certainly did not indicate that eviction by summary procedure was used as a means of maintaining a turnover of vacant pitches or of preventing families from becoming long-term occupants. And, the mere fact that anti-social behaviour occurred on local authority Gypsy sites could not, in itself, justify a summary power of eviction, since such problems also occurred on local authority housing estates and other mobile home sites and in those cases the authorities made use of a different range of powers and might only proceed to evict subject to independent court review of the justification for the measure. Notwithstanding the assertion that Gypsy attitudes to authority would make court proceedings impractical, the Court noted that security of tenure protection covered privately run Gypsy sites to which the same considerations appeared also to apply. Consequently the Court was not persuaded that there was any particular feature about local authority Gypsy sites which would render their management unworkable if they were required to establish reasons for evicting long-standing occupants.
Nor did the Court find any indication that the Gypsies would lose the advantage of low financial costs attaching to local authority sites. According to the submissions of the applicant, which were not contested by the United Kingdom Government, local authority Gypsy sites did not benefit from particularly low licence fees and in his case he had to pay double the rate of a local authority housing tenancy.
Nor did the Gypsy population gain any benefit from the special regime through any corresponding duty on the local authority to ensure that there was sufficient provision for them. No special allowances made for Gypsies in the planning criteria were applied by local authorities to applications for permission to station caravans on private sites.
The Court considered that the existence of other procedural safeguards was crucial in assessing the proportionality of the interference. However, judicial review could not be regarded as assisting the applicant, or other Gypsies, in circumstances where the local authority terminated licences in accordance with the applicable law.
The Court did not under-estimate the difficulties of the task facing the authorities in finding workable accommodation solutions for the Gypsy and Traveller population and accepted that it was an area in which national authorities enjoyed a margin of appreciation in adopting and pursuing their social and housing policies. The complexity of the situation had, if anything, been enhanced by the apparent shift in habit in the Gypsy population which remained nomadic in spirit if not in actual or constant practice.
However, the Court was not persuaded that the necessity for a statutory scheme which permitted the summary eviction of the applicant and his family had been sufficiently demonstrated by the United Kingdom Government. The power to evict, without the burden of giving reasons liable to be examined as to their merits by an independent tribunal, had not been convincingly shown to respond to any specific goal or to provide any specific benefit to members of the Gypsy community.
It would rather appear that the situation in England as it had developed, for which the authorities had to take some responsibility, placed considerable obstacles in the way of Gypsies pursuing an actively nomadic lifestyle while at the same time excluding from procedural protection those who decided to take up a more settled lifestyle.
In conclusion, the Court found that the eviction of the applicant and his family from the local authority site was not attended by the requisite procedural safeguards, namely the requirement to establish proper justification for the serious interference with his rights, and consequently could not be regarded as justified by a "pressing social need" or proportionate to the legitimate aim being pursued. There had, accordingly, been a violation of Article 8.
The Court's judgments are accessible on its Internet site www.echr.coe.int.
A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights is another sign of hope for a persecuted people The European Court of Human Rights case of Connors versus the UK. The court ruled that Britain has not given enough protection to Gypsies on local authority caravan sites. As a result, domestic law will have to be changed to bring it into line with human-rights standards. The court said that the vulnerable position of this minority people meant that their different lifestyle needs warranted special consideration. Hence there was a positive obligation on Britain to facilitate the Gypsy way of life but, said the court, obstacles had been placed in the way of Gypsies pursuing an actively nomadic lifestyle. At the same time, those who were more settled were denied the procedural protection that was available to the 'settled' population, or non-Gypsies.
See this page for some news stories from around the world relevant to Travellers.
If you have any stories or links to stories that you feel are worth sharing please feel welcome to contact us and let us know.
Johnny, a fifteen year old Irish Traveller, was tragically killed in a racist attack in Ellesmere Port in 2003. His death was very similar to that of Stephen Lawrence and the Cheshire Police investigated the his death as a racially motivated crime.
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