European Court Finds UK Violated Traveller's Right to Respect for Private Life

29 July 2004

On May 27, 2004, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgement in the case Connors v. The United Kingdom, in which it found the UK government in violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, according to a press release of the Court's Registrar of the same day. The Court awarded the applicant 14,000 Euro in non-pecuniary damages and 21,643 Euro for costs and expenses.

Mr James Connors, a 49-year-old Gypsy/Traveller, lodged his complaint with the Court on January 21, 2001, after his family broke up following their eviction by lo-cal authorities from the Cottingley Springs site for Gypsy/Travellers in the city of Leeds in England in August 2000. From about 1985, Mr Connors and his family had lived in a caravan at the Cottingley Springs site. In February 1997, the family moved from the site to a rented house due to frequent disturbances at Cottingley Springs. Unable to adapt to living in a house, in October 1998, Mr Connors and his wife and four young children returned to Cottingley Springs after receiving a licence to occupy a plot provided that they, their family and guests were not a "nuisance" to those living on the site or in its vicinity. On March 29, 1999, Mr Connors's daughter Margaret was granted a licence to occupy the adjacent plot, where she lived with Michael Maloney. On January 31, 2000, local authorities served a notice to quit on Mr Connors's family, requiring them to vacate both plots on the ground that Michael Maloney and the applicant's children, including his adult sons who visited frequently, caused "considerable nuisance" and misbehaved. Mr Connors appealed the decision, but on March 20, 2000, the local council issued proceedings for summary possession of the sites.

Early on August 1, 2000, the local council forcibly evicted the family. Their caravan was held until late in the afternoon, while their possessions were only returned on August 3 when they were dumped on the side of the road near their caravan. Mr Connors's wife and son suffered asthma and kidney problems, respectively, at the time, and another son was enrolled in full-time studies at a nearby primary school. Mr Connors claimed that the authorities did not give the family any assistance in finding an alternative site at which to settle aside from an offer for a location on the east coast of England, though they had lived in Leeds for several decades. Mr Connors put forth that following the eviction, the family was forced to move from place to place, the stress of which contributed to his wife's decision to leave him. Mr Connors's son did not return to school following the eviction.

In its decision, the Court found that "[…] there was a positive ob-ligation on the United Kingdom to facilitate the gypsy way of life. […] The family was, in effect, ren-dered homeless, with the adverse consequences on security and well-being which that entailed. […] The power to evict, without the burden of giving reasons liable to be examined as to their merits by an independent tribunal, had not been convincingly shown to respond to any specific goal or to provide any specific benefit to members of the gypsy community. It would rather appear that the situation in England as it had developed, for which the authorities had to take some responsibility, placed considerable obsta-cles in the way of gypsies pursuing an actively nomadic lifestyle while at the same time excluding from procedural protection those who decided to take up a more settled lifestyle." (ERRC)

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