Local authorities (LA) have traditionally used a possession order from the County Court to remove travellers, but many are now obtaining an eviction order from a Magistrates Court and using their own staff for service.
Under exceptional circumstances, such as a substantial risk of public disturbance, the application may be started in the High Court.
Private landowners have the choice of removal either under a possession order, which can be transferred to the High Court for enforcement by a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) under a writ of possession, or they can use Common Law.
Local Authorities are advised that a court order is preferable, but there are urgent circumstances where a Common Law eviction may be more suitable, particularly if removal is needed urgently.
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
Section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives local authorities in England and Wales powers to make directions to travellers to leave the land they are occupying and to remove their vehicles, caravans and any other property. It is an offence to not comply, in which case section 78 allows the LA to apply to the Magistrates Court for an eviction order.
The order can be made with or without naming the occupants. If the occupant doesn’t leave as soon as practicable, re-enters the land with a vehicle within three months, or tries to prevent removal, he is committing an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1,000).
The magistrate may refuse the grant the order if there is a medical condition or vehicle breakdown.
The order will authorise the LA to enter the land and remove the vehicles. 24 hours’ notice needs to be given to the landowner and named occupant. The notice will be deemed to have been served if it is fixed in a prominent place on the vehicle concerned. In the case of unnamed occupants, notice need to be fixed in a prominent place on every vehicle on the land.
The Police under certain circumstances, normally criminal activity or public disorder, can use powers under Sections 61 and 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. As trespass on land is not a criminal offence, their duty will be to preserve the peace and to prevent and detect crime, not to remove the travellers (that is the responsibility of the landowner).
The pros and cons of using a Magistrates Court eviction order
- In most cases, travellers vacate when a Magistrates Court eviction order is served
- LAs can use their own staff, saving cost, provided they have the resources – although they can call on companies such as The Sheriffs Office for serving summons and the order and also supporting the eviction
- The LA staff may not have the training or appetite to be put in intimidating and potentially dangerous situations
- The process can take up to 3 weeks: the section 77 summons is served. A court hearing is then listed. The notice of hearing is then served. Once the section 78 order is made, this is served and in most cases travellers vacate.
If the removal is urgent, then the LA may have a case for removal within 24 hours using the services of certificated enforcement agents from companies such as The Sheriffs Office.
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance