Whilst the government ditched previous proposals to make any unauthorised access to land a criminal offence, such as camping on private land, under a new law of ‘Intentional Trespass‘ (after the police apparantly advised they would be against it on the grounds of it’s difficulty in enforceability based on the experience of the Garda in Ireland), the proposal to remove legal aid from trespassers may negatively impact on particularly gypsy and traveller communities who for some decades have increasingly relied on occupying unauthorised sites or parking up on public land in situations where authorised sites are usually not available. Some 25% of the Gypsy and traveller population who live in caravans do not live on authorised sites. This is a population which in large part has no option but to trespass.
In many cases, defences under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights have been raised to possession claims. The Community Law Partnership, who run a specialist Gypsy and traveller unit, estimate that some 75% of the cases that they currently advise on would have legal aid removed under this proposal. In this context, it is notable that the Ministry of Justice equality impact assessment makes no mention of Gypsies or Irish Travellers at all. This seems to be in keeping with the Conservatives’ removal of regional development plans, which imposed requirements on Local Authorities to identify and provide new sites. All-in-all, whilst stopping short of implementing a new law of ‘Intentional Trespass’, these proposed changes would seem to go some way towards having the same effect.
Squatters of houses don’t get legal aid now, or only very rarely. Legal aid is only available where there is an arguable defence and in possession proceedings against squatters there is no such defence, apart from the occasions where the property owner fails to fulfil the technicalities. There are no costs savings to be made by removing legal aid from squatters and the removal of legal aid will frankly make little or no difference in virtually all proceedings against squatters.