Law Report: Council's duty towards gypsies: South Hams District Council v Shough - Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Nourse and Lord Justice Staughton), 2 December 1992

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Although a district council, unlike a county council, was under no statutory duty to provide sites for the accommodation of gypsies, it might still be under a duty not to evict them from council land if it was aware of the county council's failure to provide sites.

The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by South Hams District Council against the decision of Judge Willcock, sitting in Torquay County Court on 19 November 1991, to adjourn its application for a summary order of possession of land at Steamer Quay, Totnes, Devon, on which the respondents, Tracey Denise Shough and various other persons claiming to be gypsies, had parked six coaches equipped for residential purposes.

The adjournment was to allow the respondents to apply for judicial review against both the South Hams DC and Devon County Council, on the grounds, inter alia, that the district council was under a duty not to evict gypsies for whom the county council had not provided sites pursuant to a duty under section 6(1) and 7(1) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968.

Timothy Straker (Solicitor, South Hams DC) for the council; John Lloyd (Cartridges, Exeter) for the respondents.

LORD JUSTICE NOURSE said the effect of sections 6(1) and 7(1) was, in summary, (1) to make it the duty of a local authority to exercise its powers under section 24 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, so as to provide adequate accommodation for gypsies in their areas; and (2) to divide those duties between county councils, who had the duty of providing sites, and district councils, who had the duty of exercising all the other powers, such as the provision of services and facilities.

It was therefore correct to say, as South Hams had maintained, that a district council was under no duty to provide sites for gypsies, either by acquiring land from others or by appropriating land of its own.

But it was arguable that a duty nevertheless arose, where the county council had not fulfilled its duty to provide sites, requiring a district council not to evit such people. The judge adopted a correct approach when he said that the district council must be assumed to know of the county council's shortage of adequate sites and, arguably, be affected by the county council's knowledge that there was nowhere else for these people to go.

Lord Justice Staughton agreed.

Paul Magrath, Barrister