The borough council has been dealt a blow in the High Court after a blanket ban on unauthorised encampments was ruled illegal.

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC), as well as Hampshire County Council (HCC), did have an injunction against any unauthorised camp being set up within Basingstoke, as well as Bramley, Silchester, Tadley Common and Stratfield Turgis. However, following the ruling, they can no longer use this on anyone setting up a camp – just a selection of 115 individuals.

As a result, Cllr Ken Rhatigan, the leader of BDBC, said that it will now take longer to remove others setting up camps in the borough, and that the council was seeking legal advice on next steps.

BDBC and HCC were granted a final injunction against unauthorised encampments in April 2019, becoming the first borough in the county to be granted this. Since then, many other councils, including Test Valley, were also given similar injunctions.

The injunction forbids encampments being set up in the named areas, with 115 named individuals specifically forbidden. In addition, ‘persons unknown’ could also be forced to move on, if given notice. The power of arrest was also attached to the injunction, meaning anyone refusing to leave could be prosecuted.

Since being introduced, the injunction has primarily been used on members of the Traveller Community as the number of unauthorised encampments increased over the past decade.

The injunction had been criticised by Traveller organisations, such as Friends, Families and Travellers, who challenged the legality of such bans on ‘persons unknown’ in court, with 38 local authorities, including BDBC, named as claimants in the recent case.

A judge ruled that the bans as they stood were illegal, noting that BDBC’s injunction “was not in accordance” with legal requirements. Justice Nicklin said that the ban could not legally target newcomers to the area who were unaware of the injunction, and were not party to proceedings when the ban was made, following legal precedents set since 2019.

As a result, he ruled that injunctions against ‘persons unknown’ by BDBC and HCC will be discharged, but gave them the opportunity to identify other named defendants their injunction should apply to. Justice Nicklin added that he was “minded” to remove the power of arrest from any remaining injunction on named individuals at a future hearing.

Following the ruling, Mattey Mitchell, a Campaigns Officer at Friends, Families and Travellers, said: “This is a wonderful victory for justice, fairness and equality in a nation that prides itself on these values. Collective punishment should be a thing of the past, especially when it impacts communities already facing such harsh inequalities. Justice Nicklin’s judgement is a breath of fresh air in what can sometimes feel like a hopelessly hostile environment.”

BDBC, meanwhile, told the Gazette it was reviewing the judgement ahead of potential further action, with Cllr Rhatigan saying: “This injunction, which applies to already identified people and new people setting up unauthorised encampments within these areas for five years, has significantly reduced the number of unauthorised encampments in the borough and the associated clear up costs.

“A total of 16 councils – including Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council – attended a hearing at the end of January 2021. The High Court Judgement was issued on May 12, which modifies the injunction by removing ‘persons unknown’. The council’s injunction still applies to the 115 named individuals who are prohibited from setting up unauthorised encampments in the injunction area.

“However, when individuals who are not named on the injunction set up an unauthorised encampment, we will instead use alternative legal powers to regain possession of council owned land, which unfortunately takes longer. As a result, we are currently reviewing the judgment and seeking legal advice before determining our next steps.”

A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council, meanwhile, said they were unaware of their injunction, saying: “Hampshire County Council has no injunctions in place of this description and therefore this ruling will not impact on our activity.”