Simon Robbins sums up the recent legal outcomes.
You may recall that, arising out of our legal complaint, NABO persuaded CRT to publish the outcomes of ‘boating enforcement’ cases that went to court. Our legal advice suggests that some of the claims BW/CRT were making about their supposed powers were controversial and challengeable. In practice we reached the situation where we had to ‘agree to disagree’ on some points. However the ultimate test on these issues is when a case involving these disputed points is taken to court, and whether the court agrees with what CRT are claiming their powers to be. We also decided to look at recent court cases to see if there was anything enlightening in those.
After various attempts using Freedom of Information requests and obfuscations on the part of the then BW, you can see the court orders and judgments CRT have obtained since April 2012 at the CRT website. http://canalrivertrust.org.uk/publication-scheme/publication-scheme/court-action-to-remove-boats-from-our-waterways.
Most of the cases are on the face of it straightforward and apparently were not subject to a formal trial. Most involve failing to renew boat licences and/or mooring permits and are in themselves uncontroversial; we have no problem with CRT going after those who do not pay their basic dues. Even in these circumstances, in a number of cases the court made suspended orders requiring the boater to pay back the money owed in instalments and provided they did that, no further action would result. However it was clear that BW and then CRT intended to make a small number of cases ‘test cases’ on their general powers. The Paul Davies case on the K&A, much reported already, was one and although not a precedent case, it gives an indication that what most people know as ‘bridge-hopping’ is probably not acceptable.
Another case we suspected BW/CRT saw as critically important has also now been resolved; that of George Ward, also on the K&A. In the end the outcome is somewhat underwhelming: CRT did not argue a case about distance moved, overstaying or any of the controversial issues, but instead focused on the considerable delays George took to relicense one of the boats he owned. However the whole thing turned in a Pyrrhic victory: George sold the boat in question during the proceedings and so by the time it got to a judgement there could be no order made for him to remove the boat because it was no longer his. More interestingly, the court apparently declined CRT's request for a sweeping order requiring George personally and all his other boats to be excluded from CRT waters indefinitely. CRT apparently sought this order despite the fact that the other two boats George owns now have insurance and safety certificates; CRT will apparently still not relicense them. What is more curious is that it's reported that CRT is also trying to claim £76 000 in court costs from George, who is a disabled man in receipt of benefits. Given the fact that pursuing a man with almost no assets for thousands of pounds seems like a fruitless exercise and I for one have doubts over the wisdom of CRT pursuing matters further. George himself is apparently much more explicit about how he sees things: “CRT’s move to take over £76,000 from me that they know I don’t have is vindictive and malicious. They are determined to hound me off the waterways. They failed with the Section 8, they failed to get an injunction, so they are trying another way to make me homeless”. He continued “This is harassment; they are trying to put psychological pressure on me so that I move off the canals. They won’t succeed, except over my dead body”.
If it's right that CRT is pursuing £76k in costs, that does seem to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut and it will be interesting to see what a court makes of this. Surely the point of the exercise is to get the licence fees paid and ensure George keeps his boats properly licensed in future? One does wonder what the agenda really is here. Time will tell.
As alluded to above, the more controversial issue of overstaying charges/fines have it seems still to be tested in court and there is nothing much added to the court’s view of how far continuous cruisers have to move, other than what we heard in the Paul Davies case.