Reasonable force ruled out as a way of clearing unauthorised traveller sites

It would not be “wise” for Chorley Council to use reasonable force to remove travellers from unlawful encampments in the borough, a barrister has said.

By Paul Faulkner
Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 4:39 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 5:39 pm
Chorley Council sought a legal opinion on the most appropriate methods of dealing with unauthorised traveller sites
Chorley Council sought a legal opinion on the most appropriate methods of dealing with unauthorised traveller sites

The authority sought legal advice to determine whether it was adopting the most effective methods of dealing with unauthorised sites after two groups of travellers moved between several town centre car parks in quick succession earlier this year.

Papers presented to a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee described the tactics of those involved as an attempt to “frustrate” the enforcement action being taken against them.

Travellers set up illegal sites at the Friday Street, Water Street and West Street council parks – as well as Morrisons – and failed to comply with court orders telling them to leave. When they eventually did so – after bailiffs were instructed – the groups immediately moved to another town centre location.

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That meant the legal process had to start all over again, putting “a strain” on the council’s resources, members were told.

However, lawyer Alan Evans said in a written report that it would be “inadvisable” for a local authority to resort to common law powers of reasonable force, because of their requirements “to comply with human rights and equalities obligations and to take account of their welfare responsibilities and [because of] the statutory powers that are conferred on authorities to deal with unauthorised encampments”.

Those powers, under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, require a direction to be issued to travellers to leave a site before a court order can then be sought.

Chorley Council carries out a welfare assessment before embarking on that course of action, but has previous experience of travellers moving to other council-owned sites in between the two stages of the process.

Mr Evans advised the authority that the use of criminal protection orders, which can be issued under anti-social behaviour legislation, would be “inappropriate” in the first instance – and would be unlikely to speed up the process of clearing a site. However, he did state that such a measure could be deployed to deal with the same group of travellers relocating to other sites – because that could constitute “unreasonable conduct”.

The council has now redrafted its procedure for unauthorised encampments to reflect the “repeated visits, dynamic risk assessments and partnership work with the police” which takes place.

Barriers have also been erected on the Friday Street and Portland Street car parks, with the possibility of a budget being identified for similar work at other facilities.

A spokesperson for Chorley Council said: “We had a number of instances earlier this year where unauthorised encampments were moving about the borough to frustrate the enforcement action. Councillors wanted to do a review of the procedures for dealing with unauthorised encampments as the incidents earlier this year had left residents frustrated with the process and felt not enough was being done to move the encampments on.

“The review found that the process and legal procedures followed are appropriate but some changes have been made to how relevant parties are kept informed to ensure everyone is clear on what action is being taken.”