The High Court has allowed East Herts District Council’s committal application for breaches of an injunction requiring the cessation of use of a site outside the village of Little Hadham, Hertfordshire as an unauthorised residential encampment, see East Hertfordshire District Council v Docherty and Ors  EWHC 2292.
The camp was established over the Easter weekend without planning permission and the incident was widely reported in the national and local press:
Initially the council sought to prevent the breach of planning control by issuing a temporary stop notice on Good Friday. However, works continued and so an injunction was sought and granted on Easter Saturday in order to restrain the continuing breach. Work ceased on the site in the following week but the camp remains and is still occupied by residents. East Hertfordshire therefore applied for an order for committal for contempt of court as a result of the residents’ failure to comply with the terms of the injunction.
The Defendants admitted breaching the injunction to the extent that they had remained on the site despite the requirement to vacate it but they sought to resist the application to commit on the basis that the injunction should be varied or discharged. The court provided useful clarity on the approach to be taken in such a situation, confirming that breaches of the injunction should be established before considering applications to vary or discharge, following the approach of the Court of Appeal in South Cambridgeshire v Gammell  EWCA Civ 1429. The court allowed the application for committal and dismissed the application to vary or discharge, finding that the injunction was necessary and proportionate.
The Defendants were ordered to pay East Herts’ costs of proceedings totalling over £100,000. Sentencing is to take place on 26 September.
Meyric Lewis and Charles Merrett represented East Hertfordshire District Council, instructed by William Rose, partner at Sharpe Pritchard, acting as agent for Victoria Wilders, Legal Services Manager for the Council.
A copy of the judgment can be found here.