‘Landmark’ court judgement rules that ‘gypsy status’ planning law discriminates

1 November 2022
‘Landmark’ court judgement rules ‘gypsy status’ planning law discriminatory

Planning definition for Traveller sites excludes disabled and elderly Gypsies and Travellers say judges

In a significant victory for Gypsies and Travellers, the Court of Appeal has rejected the Government’s use of a “discriminatory” planning definition that determines who gets to live on a Traveller site.

The court decision, which has been handed down yesterday nearly three months after the Court of Appeal sat, has determined that the Government’s planning definition of Gypsies and Travellers (known as ‘gypsy status’) is unlawful and breaks equalities laws.

Campaigners say that the planning definition, which was changed to its current form in 2015, discriminates against elderly and disabled Gypsies and Travellers because to get ‘gypsy status’ you have to prove that you are able to continue to travel to look for work. No exception to that rule is given if you are disabled and/or elderly.

Chief Executive Officer of London Gypsies and Travellers Debby Kennett said:

“We are proud to be involved in such a significant victory, not only for Lisa Smith and her family, but for Gypsies and Travellers who have been campaigning against this discriminatory policy since 2014.

This case both exposes and recognises the discrimination Gypsies and Travellers face in the planning system.”

The case was taken to the Court of Appeal by Lisa Smith, who since 2011 has rented pitches on a private site with temporary planning permission. Two of Ms Smith’s adult sons are severely disabled and cannot travel for work.

Ms Smith previously attempted to challenge the use of the discriminatory planning definition in the High Court but was unsuccessful.

The case was then taken to the Court of Appeal, where the planning definition was declared ‘discriminatory’.

Speaking about what this decision means for Gypsy and Traveller people, Abbie Kirkby, Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers, said that the Court of Appeal’s decision sets in stone what Gypsy and Traveller people have known all this time – that no matter which way you twist it, discrimination is never justified.

"The judgement recognises that protected characteristics are protected for a reason, and sheds light on policies and legislation that have attacked and stripped back the cultural traditions of Gypsy and Traveller people like Ms Smith,” added Abbie Kirkby.

When the planning definition was changed in 2015 to exclude elderly and disabled Gypsies and Travellers it sparked protests outside Parliament © Natasha Quarmby

As it stands, the definition excludes large numbers of Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans who need a place to live, regardless of ethnic status. It has often been used by local authorities to argue that there is no need for additional sites in their local area.

In support of the case, Friends, Families and Travellers along with London Gypsies and TravellersSouthwark Travellers Action Group and the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group joined the initial challenge together as ‘Interveners’, presenting vital evidence of the discriminatory effects of the Government’s definition on the wider Gypsy and Traveller community.

The joint Interveners continued to support the challenge in the Court of Appeal and were represented by the barristers David Wolfe KC, Owen Greenhall and Tim Jones. Their solicitor was Chris Johnson of CLP.

Speaking about the Court of Appeal decision, Chris Johnson, Partner at Community Law Partnership, said:

“This is a landmark judgment. Congratulations to Lisa Smith and to her counsel, Marc Willers KC and Tessa Buchanan and her solicitor, Keith Coughtrie of Deighton Pierce Glynn, and to the Interveners in this case.

Though I understand that the Government will seek to take the matter to the Supreme Court, it leaves them with a major headache as to how to deal with the use of the definition in planning cases in the meantime.”

The Court of Appeal’s decision does not automatically get rid of the current definition, and the Government will be seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. The full judgment can be seen here.

A message from Community Law Partnership:

We are delighted to inform our readers that the application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court by three leading Traveller organisations in this matter concerning wide injunctions has been successful. 

As ordered by the Supreme Court, you can download the following documents below:

TT News/FFT press release

(Lead picture © Natasha Quarmby)

Further reading from 2016: Lisa Smith says the Government need to think again about ‘gypsy status’ | Travellers Times