Seven years after she was first served with an eviction notice and four years after her appeal was dismissed and she left a Port Talbot gypsy site, Maria Buckland has won £3,000 damages in the European Court of Human Rights. The judges in Strasbourg ruled that her right to a home and family life had been violated when all the members of her extended family were evicted from six caravan pitches at Caegarw Farm.
The site is owned by Neath Port Talbot Council but managed by the Gypsy Council, which evicted the family for causing trouble. The President of the Gypsy Council, Hughie Smith, claimed that they had made life a misery for the other tenants. Unlike her relatives, Maria Buckland was allowed by Swansea County Court to remain on the site for several months so long as her son left her caravan. After that she was able to stay put whilst the Court of Appeal considered her claim that her human rights had been violated.
The Appeal Court threw out the case and Maria Buckland was forced to leave the site after the House of Lords refused to grant her a hearing in 2008. She then took her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which ruled today that her right to a family and home life had been violated because she did not have the chance to argue against the eviction on the grounds of her personal circumstances.
The applicant claimed €11,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage for the anxiety and distress suffered as a consequence of the violation of her rights. The [UK] Government considered the sum excessive and argued that €2,000 was adequate to compensate any finding of a procedural violation.
– Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights
It is not possible to speculate as to what would have been the outcome if the applicant had been able to contest the making of the possession order on the basis of her personal circumstances. However, as a result of the making of a possession order which the applicant was unable to challenge, the applicant suffered some feelings of frustration and injustice. These are likely to have been mitigated by the power of the County Court to suspend the order for up to twelve months, a power which the court used in her case. The Court therefore awards the applicant €4,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
€4,000 is approximately £3,000. Maria Buckland was awarded the same amount in legal costs. Her actual legal costs are thought to run to tens of thousands of pounds and will be met by legal aid. The Gypsy Council estimate that the case had already cost it £35-40,000 before going to Strasbourg, where Maria Buckland sued the UK government. The United Kingdom has three months to challenge today's judgment and ask for a full hearing before the European Court of Human Rights.
– Lawyers acting for Maria Buckland
We are of course delighted that the European court have vindicated our argument that the system (which still prevails in Wales) whereby a Gypsy can be evicted from a council site without any opportunity to argue that it is disproportionate or unreasonable for a possession order to be made is a breach of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life and home). We hope that the Welsh Government will now speed up the introduction of Mobile Homes Act protection on Welsh local authority sites to avoid this situation occurring again.