Law Report: Local authorities applied right definition that gypsies travel to find work as 'habit of life': Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Neill, Lord Justice Leggatt and Lord Justice Millett), 27 May 1994

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Regina v South Hams District Council, Ex parte Gibb and two other applications.

The definition of 'gypsies' in the Caravan Sites Act 1968 meant persons who wandered or travelled as part of their habit of life for the purpose of making or seeking their livelihood, and did not include persons who moved from place to place without any connection between the movement and their means of livelihood.

The Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed appeals by the applicants from Mr Justice Harrison's and Mr Justice Laws's dismissals on 3 November 1993 and 27 January 1994 of their applications for judicial review of decisions of local authorities to issue proceedings for possession of land occupied by the applicants.

Section 16 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 provides: '. . . 'gypsies' means persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin, but does not include members of an organised group of travelling showmen , or of persons engaged in travelling circuses, travelling together as such . . .'

The applicants occupied sites at Steamer Quay, Totnes, in Devon, Old Gore Wood, Hollow Fosse, in Gloucestershire, and Blackdown, Dorchester, in Dorset.

The issue was whether the local authority in each of the cases, in bringing possession proceedings, applied the right test when deciding that the applicants were not gypsies within section 16 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and therefore were not entitled to occupy sites for their occupation.

David Watkinson (Cartridges, Exeter; Bobbetts Mackan, Bristol) for the applicants; Timothy Straker (Sharpe Pritchard for council solicitors) for the South Hams District Council, Devon County Council, Gloucestershire County Council and Dorset County Council.

LORD JUSTICE NEILL said that it was clear that the statutory definition of 'gypsies' was wider and looser than the meaning of 'gypsies' in its traditional sense.

However the applicants' argument that it was no longer permissible to restrict the statutory definition of gypsies to those who led a wandering life with an economic purpose could not be accepted.

The following matters were relevant to a decision whether or not a particular group was composed of gypsies:

1. The links between members of the group and between the group and other groups who were either at the site or visited the site.

Living and travelling together in cohesive groups was a feature of nomadic peoples.

2. The pattern of the journeys made by the group.

Though a group of gypsies might have a permanent residence, a nomadic habit of life necessarily involved travelling from place to place. It was relevant to inquire whether the group visited sites on a regular basis.

3. The purpose of travel. The word 'nomadic' added to the words 'habit of life' a sense of purpose for the travelling.

'Habit of life' involved purposive activities including work and meant travel formed part of that habit of life.

The definition of 'gypsies' in section 16 imported the requirement that there should be some recognisable connection between the wandering or travelling and the means whereby the persons concerned made or sought their livelihood.

Persons or individuals who moved from place to place merely as the fancy might take them and without any connection between the movement and their means of livelihood fell outside the statutory definitions.

The duty of county councils under section 6 was to provide sites for those who came in cohesive groups and who had some purpose and pattern for their wanderings.

The arguments that the local authorities had misconstrued the meaning of the word gypsies in section 16 was rejected by the court.

Parliament must have intended that the question whether particular persons or groups were gypsies was a matter for the authorities concerned.

The appeals were dismissed by the Court of Appeal.