Planning refusal for gypsy caravans upheld

LAW REPORT v 10 October 1996
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The Independent Online
Buckley v United Kingdom (23/1995/529/615); European Court of Human Rights; 26 September 1996

The refusal of planning permission to enable a gypsy to live in caravans stationed on her own land did not constitute unjustified interference with her right, under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to respect for her home.

The European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that article 8 applied to the case of the applicant, June Buckley, but ruled by a a majority of six votes to three that there had been no violation of that article.

Article 8 provided:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society . . .

Mrs Buckley lived with her three children in caravans parked on land owned by her off Meadow Drove, Willingham, south Cambridgeshire. Her family had for many generations lived as gypsies in the south Cambridgeshire area. She had lived in caravans all her life.

In 1988 she acquired a plot of land on to which she moved three caravans. In 1989 she applied retrospectively to South Cambridgeshire District Council for planning permission. This was refused and the council issued an enforcement notice requiring her caravans to be removed. An appeal to the Secretary of State for the Environment was dismissed in April 1991.

She was subsequently prosecuted and fined for failure to comply with the enforcement notice. A further application for planning permission, made in September 1994, was also refused and a further appeal to the secretary of state dismissed.

Mrs Buckley contended that she was prevented from living with her family in caravans on her own land and from following the traditional life-style of a gypsy, contrary to article 8 of the Convention.

David Pannick QC and Mark Shaw (I Christie, Foreign and Commonwealth Office) for the Government; Nicolas Bratza QC, delegate, for the Commission; Peter Duffy and T. Jones (Luke Clements) for the applicant.

The court ruled that despite the fact that the applicant had herself acted in contravention of national law, the case concerned her "right to respect for [her] . . . home" and the refusal of planning permission constituted "interference by a public authority" with her exercise of that right.

The question was whether that interference was "necessary in a democratic society". The interests of the community were to be balanced against the applicant's right to respect for her home, a right which was pertinent to her and her children's personal security and wellbeing.

The law governing the decision-making process leading to the contested decision had entitled the applicant to appeal to the secretary of state. The appeal procedure comprised an assessment by a qualified independent inspector who had seen the land for herself and considered representations by the applicant and the district council.

The applicant's special needs as a gypsy following a traditional life- style were taken into account, as was the shortage of gypsy caravan sites in the area. The applicant's interest in being allowed to continue living on her land had been weighed against the general interest in conforming to planning policy.

The applicant had been offered alternative accommodation on a nearby official caravan site and, although the location was less satisfactory than her present dwelling, article 8 did not allow individuals' preferences as to their place of residence to override the general interest.

The applicant had been fined relatively small sums but had not been forcibly evicted. In the circumstances, the court considered that proper regard had been had to her predicament, and that the reasons relied on by planning authorities were relevant and sufficient, for the purposes of article 8, to justify the resultant interference with her exercise of the right to respect for her home.

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