River Thames boat registration enforcement in marinas

The EA have released the following:

As you are aware, we have been waiting for the outcome of a High Court appeal hearing in our prosecution case against the owners of 22 boats found unregistered in the Thames and Kennet Marina in Caversham and Penton Hook Marina in Chertsey in 2014.

Our position was that these marinas form part of the River Thames as defined by the Thames Conservancy Act 1932 and therefore, under the terms of the Environment Agency (Inland Waterways) Order 2010, these boats should be registered with us. The boat owners disagreed.

The prosecution case was heard at Reading Magistrates Court in November 2015. The District Judge did not share our position on the critical point of law – that marinas connected to the main River Thames should be considered part of it – and found in favour of the boat owners, not us.

After considering the full reasoned judgement for the decision, we exercised our right to seek an appeal to the High Court. The appeal was afforded a full day’s hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in December 2016. Lord Justice Lindblom and Mr Justice Singh heard the arguments from both parties’ legal representatives, but reserved judgement until the New Year.

The judgement has now been handed down by the High Court. I am pleased to tell you that the judgement is in our favour.

This is the outcome we were hoping for, as we have always been confident that our position on the points of law considered in this judgement is the correct one. As we made clear to the boating community in 2014, we obtained the opinion of an eminent Queen’s Counsel on the argument by some boat owners that the marinas were not part of the River Thames, and had received his advice that they were.

We then reminded boat owners of the obligation to register boats kept in marinas, but a number chose to ignore our advice. Some of those are the subject of the prosecutions which gave rise to this High Court judgement. The same Queen’s Counsel who gave the advice on which we acted, represented the Environment Agency in the successful High Court proceedings.

We now intend to carry on with the arrangements that have been in place since we implemented the Inland Waterways Order in 2011.

Although we cannot make any further comment – due to there potentially being 22 prosecutions before the court once more – it is worth reminding ourselves of the background to this case:

  • The introduction of the Environment Agency (Inland Waterways) Order 2010 in April 2010 changed the law governing boat registration relating to the rivers for which we are the navigation authority.  The new Order allowed us to introduce a more modern and consistent approach for boat registration, by updating historic navigation legislation on the River Thames, River Medway and Anglian waterways
  • For the Thames, one of the key changes of the new legislation was that any boat ‘kept’ on the river, needed to be registered. Previously, only boats ‘used’ on the river needed to be registered. This new requirement of the legislation, along with others, was introduced for the first time in 2011. The new legislation also required boats to have, as a minimum, third party insurance before they could be registered, a move welcomed by the majority of boaters and boating businesses as a sensible measure to avoid conflict and cost in the event of accidents causing property damage or injury
  • After a reasonable period of notice, we started checking that all boats being kept on the river had been registered; this included checks in marinas which we consider to be part of the River Thames according to the definition of it in the 1932 Thames Conservancy Act
  • Some owners of boats in marinas challenged our interpretation of the Act, claiming that we were wrong to conclude that its definition of the Thames included marinas, and that boats kept in marinas did not need to be registered as a result
  • On the advice of our legal team, we sought Queen’s Counsel advice on this point and suspended further checks in marinas in the meantime
  • Queen’s Counsel advice supported our original position. As a result, we resumed boat registration checks in marinas in September 2014, but only after we had advised marina owners of our intention and allowed a reasonable amount of time – about one month –  for them to alert their  customers and for any of their customers who have not already registered their boats with us, to do so
  • Checks in two marinas resulted in the prosecution of 22 boat owners, the case which we received the appeal hearing judgement on today.

Another important feature of this case is the measured approach we have taken throughout. We have scrupulously assessed the merits and risks of each step to ensure we were at all times acting in the best interests of the wider River Thames boating community and the tax-paying public. These principles have always underpinned our enforcement of navigation legislation on the waterways we manage, and always will.

Best regards,

Mark Ormrod

Environment and Business Manager – Navigation

Cherie Pitcher-Schofield | Committee Services Officer

Contact | Internal Tel: 47649 | External Tel: 02084747649

Environment Agency | Kings Meadow House, Kings Meadow Road, Reading, Berkshire RG1 8DQ

Email | cherie.pitcher-schofield@environment-agency.gov.uk