Legal challenge to ‘discriminatory’ Traveller planning definition forges ahead

7 April 2017

Community Law Partnership are challenging a highly controversial new planning definition on behalf of a Gypsy woman in a battle that could lead to the High Courts.

In August 2015 the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government changed the definition of the so-called ‘gypsy status’ required by applicants wishing to develop Traveller sites. From that date those Gypsies and Travellers who have had to stop travelling permanently due to age or ill health have been excluded from the ‘gypsy status’ and are no longer allowed to develop Traveller sites under the Planning Policy For Traveller Sites government planning rules.

The new definition has also cast into doubt the future of many ‘settled’ Gypsies and Travellers currently living on Traveller sites. Many council Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation assessments – which count the number of Gypsies and Travellers in their area so councils can plan for more sites -have been drastically reduced because of the new definition.

“We have been arguing since then that the definition is discriminatory, prejudicial, unreasonable and disproportionate especially as regards those Gypsies and Travellers who are old, disabled, in serious ill health or caring for others,” said the lawyers for Mrs Nun.

The case has been running for some time as initially Mrs Nun was refused legal aid to make the challenge. However, CLP successfully challenged the decision by the Legal Aid Agency not to give legal aid to Mrs Nun by way of a Judicial Review – and got legal aid to do so.

 The new definition sparked a protest and a petition to the government by Gypsy and Traveller campaigners which was covered in the November 2016 issue of the Travellers’ Times Magazine.

The new definition has also been condemned by the equalities and human rights watchdog.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission made submissions to the Government saying that the new law did not adequately consider the rights of Gypsies and Travellers. It argued that the most vulnerable are likely to be worst affected – particularly parents who do not want their children’s education interrupted by moving around and older people who are too unwell to travel.

A spokesman for the Commission said: “We have written to the Government to explain the position under international law. This sets-out that Gypsies are not Gypsies merely because they travel. Membership of that group is also both a question of ethnicity and cultural identity, which includes ethnic minorities such as Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers.”

The Welsh Assembly refused to adopt the new definition and still uses the old ‘gypsy status’ which allows Gypsies and Travellers to stop travelling permanently for health and educational reasons.

The Community Law Partnership is a radical, progressive firm of solicitors specialising in the law relating to Housing and Public Law. CLP incorporates the Travellers Advice Team (TAT) – a ground-breaking nationwide 24 hour advice service for Gypsies and Travellers.

(Photo by Natasha Quarmby)