Joint Committee On Human Rights Sixth Report

75. Memorandum from Friends, Families and Travellers

  Thank you for contacting us, as you may be aware FFT is a membership based democratically controlled organisation that was established during the passage through Parliament of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. It has since grown into a nationally recognised voluntary organisation, which serves the whole of the Traveller Community, both traditional and new. The majority of work promoted by FFT is carried out by an Advice and Information Unit, based in Brighton. The work the unit covers are all areas and issues that affect Travellers as well as carrying out research, monitoring, mediation and policy development at local and national levels.

  Having consulted with the Community Legal Partnership's Travellers Advice Team solicitors, we have compiled the following response to your questions:

  1.  The main Convention Rights that are applicable to Gypsies and Travellers are:

    —  Article 6 Right to a Fair Trial: The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 Sections 61, 77 and 78 are incompatible with the right to a fair trial due to the fact that non compliance with these sections results in immediate criminal proceedings being taken against that person/s.

    —  Article 8 The Right to Private and Family Life: Lack of effective local authority provision often means that Travellers are not at liberty to pursue a nomadic existence that is free from persecution and harassment and is part of their cultural heritage.

    —  Article 14 Discrimination: Articles 1 and 2 of the First Protocol and in very extreme cases Article 3.

  2.  The unique need of Gypsies and Travellers are often over looked by public bodies who fail to recognise their nomadic existence as a viable way of life, much legislation is designed to meet the needs of sedentary society. In particular we would point out the failure of local authorities (and sometimes other public bodies, especially the police) in their dealings with unauthorised encampments:

    —  Decisions to evict such encampments even when no nuisance or annoyance is being caused and they are on underused or disused land and without any alternative being suggested.

    —  Failure of government to reinstate duty to provide sites despite opposing repeal of that duty in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act when they were in opposition.

    —  The vast majority of planning applications from Travellers are refused by local authorities in direct contradiction of government indications, such as those in Circular 1/94.

  3.  In my opinion this can only be assessed on a case by case basis.

  4.  At least a third of all Travelling families have nowhere to legally station their vehicles forcing them onto unauthorised encampments and the cycle of evictions that follow. This impacts at every other level of their existence; health and well being, education and work. You may well be aware that Travellers have:

    —  the highest infant mortality rates

    —  the lowest life expectancy

    —  appalling accommodation provisions

    —  the highest illiteracy rates

    —  the most racist press coverage

    —  provoke the most complaints to the Commission for Racial Equality

    —  have been seemingly excluded from the remit of the Social Exclusion Unit

    —  are moved around the country at the cost of millions to local authorities and other landowners

  Those Travellers who live on official sites have no security of tenure at the moment.

  5.  The public bodies are identified above, but may additionally include various government departments or bodies such as, the Welsh Development Agency or the National Trust even. There are insufficient sites and has been since the repeal of the 1968 Caravans Act. The 1994 Criminal Justice Bill effectively removed the statutory duty to provide for Gypsies and Travellers. The main reason for failure to rectify would appear to be a lack of political will.

  6.  There is no official Inspectorate (see The Traveller Reform Bill).

  7.  We have raised issues with the Commission for Racial Equality, though this has in the past been less than satisfactory with a reluctance to take Traveller cases forward.

  8.  No

  9.  No should be the Commission (see Traveller Law Reform Bill).

  10.  Legal action has been to date the only way of trying to improve the situation. Since October 2000 the Travellers Advice Team (part of the Community Law Partnership) have dealt with the following cases:

    —  Albert Smith v ODPM (security of tenure-going to Court of Appeal).

    —  Fuller v Dorset Constabulary (s61).

    —  Piggott v Bedfordshire CC (allocation of pitches).

    —  Porter v South Bucks (planning injunctions).

    —  Berry and O'Connor (two cases)—effectively overturning Gibb on definition of a Gypsy.

    —  Price v Carmarthenshire (homelessness and accommodation-ongoing) and many more.

  11.  We desperately need a change in legislation: bring back duty; loosen planning guidance; monitor the whole thing (see Traveller Law Reform Bill). We'd like to see an end to police evictions.

  12.  Yes there is scope both for Human Rights Commission and for Gypsy and Traveller Commission. With regard to the latter (see Traveller Law Reform Bill), though we would envisage the Commission having wider powers than indicated in the Bill.

  13.  See above.

23 January 2003

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