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Broxbourne BC v Robb [2011] EWHC 1626 QB; [2011] EWCA 1355 (Civ)

DATE: 24 Aug 2011

 

In this important decision Cranston J applied the principles in Mid Bedforshire District Council v Brown [2005] 1 WLR 1460 and South Cambridgeshire District Council v Gammell [2005] EWCA 1429 in committal proceedings following breach of an injunction granted against persons unknown.  In May 2008 the local planning authority obtained an injunction against a landowner and persons unknown preventing the stationing of caravans on an unoccupied leisure plot near Wormley, Herts.  Two years later the defendant stationed a large mobile home on the plot.  The authority ascertained his identity, sent him a copy of the injunction and gave him a fortnight to leave.  The defendant contacted the authority and explained that he had nowhere to go – and remained on the plot.  The authority applied to commit him for breaching the injunction after the 14 day deadline.  The defendant then applied to vary the injunction and applied for planning permission.  By the time the applications to commit and to vary the injunction were heard an appeal hearing was imminent.  The defendant argued that he had a real prospect of winning his planning appeal and that, consistently with South Bucks v Porter, the injunction should be varied to allow him to remain on the plot until the planning appeal was determined.  This meant the outcome of the committal application could not sensibly be a punishment designed to force him to leave the plot immediately.  Cranston J held that the defendant should have applied to vary the injunction as soon as he knew about it, as required by the fourth rule in South Cambridgeshire District Council v Gammell.  As he had not, his application to vary should be determined in accordance with Mid Beds District Council v Brown and the overriding consideration should be to uphold the authority of the court.  Cranston J therefore refused to vary the injunction and sentenced the occupier to 28 days in prison, suspended on condition that he left the plot within 28 days.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of Cranston J. 

This decision confirms the efficacy of injunctions granted against persons unknown.  A gypsy who plans to continue stationing caravans on land in breach of such an injunction must apply to vary it as soon as he learns of it.  If he leaves his application to vary until after the local planning authority has started committal proceedings, he can expect his application to fail. 

Richard Langham appeared for Broxbourne Borough Council.