Forgive us our trespassers

9 July 2018

It is the time of year when land owners will particularly experience problems with groups of travellers who will turn up on agricultural land and involve the land owner in considering its options as to how to regain possession of the land as quickly as possible. The following are the steps that should immediately be taken to look to regain possession of your premises as soon as possible.

  1. Call your solicitors – at best the process is going to take a little time to complete and the sooner that we are involved the better.
  2. Obtain documents proving your ownership of the land in question. If we apply to Court we are going to need to prove ownership of the land and that can only be done realistically by the paper title, ideally by documents from the Land Registry. Those should be collected together as soon as possible and although this stage should usually be straight forward, it can occasional take some time to complete.
  3. Speak to the Police. The Police do have Section 61 powers where they can require travellers to move on. This can circumvent the entire legal process so if your local Police force has (and Essex does) a relevant department then you can speak to them regarding the requirements that they will need in order to satisfy their criteria that they should get involved. Generally they will be looking for evidence that a forceable entry has been made and that damage to the property is occurring. This is very much within the discretion of the Police and whether they want to get involved but if they do, it is a quick way to circumvent legal problems arising.
  4. Get your solicitors to draft proceedings as quickly as possible. These should be issued in the local County Court where the property is situated. Occasionally you can go to the High Court to do this but the circumstances in which that will apply will be few and far between. The proceedings are trespassers proceedings under Part 55 CPR and the Court fee is £355. With luck, the Court should be prepared to issue and return the proceedings on the same day but you will need to be in attendance at Court and probably wait for about an hour to collect the issued proceedings in person.
  5. The return date given by the Court is imminent. It is usually around 5-7 working days after the date of issue of the proceedings. The proceedings therefore need to be served quite quickly, more so if you are dealing with residential property. You need a process server to do this and the procedure is set out in Part 55 CPR and is quite convoluted. You need to comply with the procedure precisely and demonstrate to the Court that that has been done. Retain a process server for that purpose and they will complete the relevant task and provide you will written confirmation that it has been dealt with in accordance with the Court's procedures. The cost for a process server in an average case is somewhere in the region of £100 – £125 plus VAT.
  6. Lodge the relevant documents at Court. You are unlikely to obtain an order for costs against ''persons unknown'' (as you are unlikely to know the name of any of the trespassers). Nevertheless, it is worth maintaining a claim, just in case it becomes relevant later on. All relevant documents including the Certificate of Service need to be filed at Court before the return date.
  7. Attend Court at the return date and seek an order for possession. You need to demonstrate to the Court that you are the land owner or that you speak on behalf of the land owner and that you are opposed to the actions of the trespassers. You also need to demonstrate that the land owner owns the land in issue and therefore has the right to ask the Court to provide possession of it to the Claimant.
  8. If you obtain an order, the chances are the order will be for possession forthwith and the trespassers should vacate as soon as the order is obtained. If that happens then you secure the premises firmly behind them to prevent anybody else getting on the site afterwards. One advantage of obtaining an order for possession of the property is that if there is a recurrence at a point in the future with another group of travellers moving onto the same site, the fact that you have obtained an order for possession of the land should be sufficient to put in front of the Police at stage 3 above and they should be prepared to assist because the Courts have shown that you own the land in issue. Normally the Police are reluctant to get involved because they do not want to get into what may be a civil dispute between the parties. If however the Courts have already been involved and have declared who owns the land in issue, the Police may well be prepared to get involved at that stage.
  9. In the unlikely event that the trespassers are still there, you will need to consider enforcing the order for possession. Consider using a High Court Enforcement Officer and whilst it can take time to appoint them, in an urgent case involving a trespasser it is problem worth taking the risk. Register the Judgement with them and they should deal with the administrative process and it can be enforced through the High Court. The alternative is using the County Court Bailiff Office but that can take a week or so for an appointment to be confirmed and it would not be the quickest way to deal with it.

The way to deal with claims that are effectively emergency injunction is to demonstrate your right of ownership of the land, to act clearly, swiftly and obtain copies of all the relevant documents and provide them to your solicitors. The Police should be involved at an early stage because they might be prepared to assist and that might deal with the position entirely. Threats of physical violence should not be used against the trespassers because that may well constitute a criminal offence. This is a civil problem and needs to be remedied by an order from the Civil Court.

If you require any further guidance on this matter, please feel free to contact the Dispute Resolution department.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.