Eviction from land not owned by Travellers

The steps different landowners can take to try and remove travellers, including under common law trespass and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

This content applies to England

Powers of landowners to remove trespassers

Landowners can use common law powers to remove trespassers from their land. This includes travellers who are on land without permission.

Local authorities can take steps to remove unauthorised travellers from any land in their district, regardless of ownership.

Some types of landowners may also have additional powers to remove travellers who are there without permission.

Highway land

Highway authorities have the right to remove vehicles parked on highway land (usually the land between the fences on either side of the road) since it is an offence for a person without lawful authority or excuse to obstruct free passage on a highway.[1]

There are also powers to remove vehicles that are illegally, obstructively or dangerously parked, or abandoned or broken down on a highway.[2] Highway authorities can also use the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Common land

Members of the public have rights of access for air and exercise on some common land,[3] but do not have the right to drive caravans on to the land and camp there.[4] District councils can also make orders prohibiting caravans on common land for the purposes of human habitation.[5]

Local authority land

Local authorities can evict Travellers from their own land using trespass laws or using the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

Private land

Under common law, private owners have the right to evict trespassers. In certain circumstances they can also ask the police to direct unauthorised occupiers from the land under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Network Rail land

If the Travellers are on operational Network Rail land (formerly British Rail land, ie near a railway line), an authorised person, after requesting Travellers and vehicles to leave, has the power to arrest without a warrant.

Common law trespass

If a person is on someone else's land without permission they are committing the civil tort of trespass. It is not a criminal offence. To evict a trespasser from open land the owner must issue proceedings using the summary possession proceedings in a county court or the High Court.[6]

The Supreme Court has decided that whilst a possession order can only be made in respect of the land actually occupied, an injunction can be made regarding land that trespassers might occupy in the future (ie once they have been evicted from their current site).[7]

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act

Under section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 a local authority can order any person living in a vehicle within its area to move off any land that either:

  • forms part of a highway

  • is unoccupied (even where the person is causing no nuisance or interference to neighbours etc)

  • is occupied, but the occupier has not given permission to them to reside there

Although the section of the Act uses the words 'unauthorised campers', the powers can be used where a Traveller is either on unoccupied land with the owner's consent or on occupied land with the owner's consent where the consent is subsequently withdrawn.

A criminal offence is committed if Travellers fail to leave the land as soon as practicable after receiving a direction from the local authority to move, and the Travellers can be fined.[8] A removal direction (and a consequent removal order) only applies to people on the land at the time the direction was made and not to those who arrive on the site afterwards.[9]

There is no definition in the Act of what constitutes 'occupied' or 'unoccupied' land. However, mere ownership of the land or the existence of an unused house on the site will probably not be sufficient to constitute occupation. It is likely that it is necessary for something to be actually done on the land (eg farming).

Returning to the land within three months

It is an offence for a Traveller to re-enter the land with their vehicle within three months of the date of the direction to leave, and they can be fined if they do so.[10]

If proceedings are brought for the offence and the Traveller was unable to leave due to vehicle breakdown, illness or another emergency, this is a defence to the action.

Surrounding areas of land

The Supreme Court has decided that whilst a possession order can only be made in respect of the land actually occupied, an injunction can be made regarding land that trespassers might occupy in the future (ie once they have been evicted from their current site).

However the landowner must show that there is a real likelihood of the Travellers camping on the adjoining areas.[11]

Groups affected by the offence

Advisers should note that this section applies to any person who resides in a vehicle and so affects both Gypsies and other Travellers. Only those who live (rather than being on holiday) in a vehicle are affected.

This section means that all Travellers without a secure pitch will find themselves at risk of committing a criminal offence.

Local authority powers to remove vehicles

Sections 78 and 79 of the Act enable a local authority to apply to a magistrates' court to obtain a removal order so that it can go onto the land and remove vehicles that are there in contravention of a direction to leave.

An authority has the power to remove vehicles after giving 24 hours' notice to the owner or occupier, unless the authority is unable to obtain their names and addresses.

Last updated: 5 February 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.137 Highway Act 1980.

  • [2]

    s.99 Part 8 Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.

  • [3]

    s.193 Law of Property Act 1925.

  • [4]

    s.193 Law of Property Act 1925; s.34 Road Traffic Act 1988.

  • [5]

    s.23 Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 as amended.

  • [6]

    County Court Rules Order 24, preserved in Sch.2 Civil Procedure Rules; Order 113 preserved in Sch.2 Civil Procedure Rules.

  • [7]

    Secretary of State For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs v Meier and others [2009] UKSC 11.

  • [8]

    s.77(3)(a) Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

  • [9]

    R v Wealden DC ex parte Stratford; R v Lincolnshire CC ex parte Atkinson [1995] Legal Action October 1995; 31st August 1995, QBD.

  • [10]

    s.77(3)(b) Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

  • [11]

    Secretary of State For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs v Meier and others [2009] UKSC 11.