Lawyers call for clearer guidelines after ruling clouds eviction rights

COUNCIL lawyers face delays and confusion when advising on the eviction of travellers following High Court rulings on groups in East Sussex and Lincolnshire.

At least 30 authorities are trying to obtain transcripts of the ruling and some solicitors believe the Government should issue new guidelines to clarify the application of the law.

The court ruled that the councils involved, Wealden and Lincolnshire, made legal errors while evicting New Age travellers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Mr Justice Sedley decided both councils failed in their statutory duties to make inquiries about their welfare before evicting. Wealden's eviction order was quashed but Lincolnshire was allowed to continue.

Ravi Low Beer, solicitor with the Public Law Project which acted for the Wealden travellers, said: “The court has recognised that the powers under the Act must be exercised having regard to the need of the individuals on the site.”

But some council lawyers believe the welfare inquiries mean masses of information must be gathered before an order is given, slowing the legal process down.

The judgment also means the order applies only to the person it is served on rather than everyone on the site.

Vic Scarpa, legal services manager for Wealden, said it was not even clear under what circumstances the order could be served because the welfare criteria were not defined.

He said the Department of the Environment's circular on gypsies and travellers should be updated to state clearly when and how proceedings can be taken.

Another chief solicitor said: “The guidelines are absolutely crass. They had been given powers for quick eviction in the Act and had taken them away by the court,” he said.

Peter Burns, chief solicitor at Lincolnshire, said he had been contacted by at least 30 other legal departments for a copy of the transcript. However, he believes the law is now clear.