Runnymede eco-village get stay of execution in eviction proceedings so High Court can consider whether they were given an adequate hearing in “exceptional case”

Photos from after the hearinghttp://www.demotix.com/photo/7927442/runnymede-eco-villagers-gain-adjournment-appeal-high-court&popup=1

  • Notorious bailiffs for luxury property developers arrive on site but told to stand down
  • Judge describes the case as “exceptional” due to its location and history, noting significance of “competing” interests
  • Villagers appeals to Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest may not have been adequately addressed by lower court

Residents of the Runnymede eco-village are celebrating after the High Court in London granted them a stay of execution in possession proceedings (Tuesday 23rd June) sought by Orchid Runnymede Limited who want to develop the land with the Royalton Group for the elite property market [1].

runnymede-ecovillagers-gain-adjournment-of-appeal-from-high-court-mark-kerrison-demotix

Mr Justice Knowles prevented Orchid Runnymede’s enforcement of a summary order of possession and directed them to immediately stand down bailiffs who had arrived at the village prior to the hearing. The villagers, many of whom had stayed at the eco-village to hold off the bailiffs had feared a Dale Farm-style clearance by the contracted bailiffs company Constant & Co [2]. The judge questioned the need for a forthwith order and this is a matter that the villagers will raise at the appeal hearing, given the families and livestock on the land. 

Mr Justice Knowles ruled the stay of execution was necessary so the Court of Appeal could properly assess whether the eco-village residents were given a full and fair hearing in Guildford County Court on 15th June – the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta [3]. The villagers’ case included assertions of rights under the Magna Carta, its companion Charter of the Forest and the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Mr Justice Knowles recognised the powerful symbolism of the competing interests in this “exceptional” case when he ruled:

“Given the exceptional location and the history associated with [Runnymede & Coppers Hill Coppice], and the competing and directly differing interests – one seeking possession of ancient forest [for private development] the other side seeking to remain on a site occupied for three years [and to continue to subsist in common from the land].”

In granting an adjournment, Mr Justice Knowles accepted that many matters previously raised by the applicants might not of been dealt with adequately by the lower Court, or dealt with in an insufficient manner, and directed an adjournment so this could be established . 

“One of the criticisms of the applicants was although the judge dealt with some issues, such as licensing matters, other issues were dealt with either not at all, or hardly at all. ” 

A note of the hearing has been included as an Appendix to this press release.

Barrister Michael Paget acting for one of the appellants said: 

“It is surprising that where there has been a long-term peaceful occupation of a unique site that the judge decided not to consider the human rights arguments beyond a summary assessment.”

The judgment potentially reopens the legal question of whether commoners should have the right to subsist on disused land as provided for by the Magna Carta’s companion Charter of the Forest, as well as natural and common law rights to live on the land.

One of the appellants, Pete Phoenix said:

“Today was a major victory for civil liberties and land rights, opening the discussion over access to land to enable people to live in a low-impact, sustainable and off-grid way.”

Julie Timbrell of New Putney Debates and Occupy Democracy, groups who are among those helping the villagers with their legal case, said:

 “The Villagers sense of the lower court judgment was that property rights trumped all other rights. But villagers contended that this is wrong in principle and that the judge failed to address properly the villagers’ right to sustain themselves in the common realm, to live on waste land and to feed and house themselves through their own efforts, in community. Villagers pointed out that the Charter of the Forest, the companion to the Magna Carta, gave these rights”

Notes:

1. Orchid Runnymede Limited are registered offshore and their development agent is luxury property developers Art Estates who are part of the Royalton Group. According to the Art Estates website [http://www.artestates.co.uk/magna-carta-park/] the development will provide “grand living” at “an aspirational address … set in 67 acres of beautiful parkland … with close proximity to Windsor Great Park [and] Royal Ascot.”

Since early 2014 Royalton Group is 50% owned by insurance tycoon Peter Wood and 50% by its founder Ken Parker. Wood’s personal fortune is estimated to be worth £550 million [http://www.standard.co.uk/business/business-news/insurance-tycoon-peter-wood-chases-a-new-fortune-in-property-9384065.html]. 

2. Dale Farm was evicted using 100 riot police two people were tasered and seven arrested [http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/oct/19/dale-farm-eviction-police-taser]. Constant & Co.’s contract was worth several million: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-14694415

3. For a report on the 16 June hearing at Guildford County Court see “‘Travesty of justice’ as Runnymede eco-villagers told to leave site on Magna Carta anniversary” [http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/travesty-justice-runnymede-eco-villagers-told-9465535].

5 For background on the  Charter of the Forest & Magna Carta please see this video by “The Magna Carta Manifesto” author Peter Linebaugh. The video was recorded as a message to Runnymede eco-villlage for the Festival of Democracy on the occasion of the 800th  anniversary of Magna Carta on 15 June 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn60cAr4n4I&feature=player_embedded

4. For more background to this case see previous press releases at: https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/category/press/

Appendix: Rush transcript note of the hearing:

“Given the exceptional location and the history associated with [Runnymede & Coppers Hill Coppice], and the competing and directly differing interests – one seeking possession of ancient forest, the other side seeking to remain on a site occupied for three years.

A number of statements and arguments were considered and dealt with summarily by the lower court.

One of the criticisms of the applicants was although the judge dealt with some issues, such as licensing matters, other issues were dealt with either not at all, or hardly at all. Such as matters raised by the appellants [on customary common unwritten] law in force since before the Time of Memory and the Coronation of Richard the First.

It is sometimes not appropriate to deal with such matters, as Ms Stacy [the lawyer for the developer] put forward. However it is difficult to form an assessment of this as no transcript available. A note of the statement of judgment been made available [by Ms Stacy], but is just a note. There is a weakness on this alone.

There is a virtue in the appellant court having that sight of this full transcribed judgment.  That will show if the judge did actually address the maters. Also the appellant court may add its view.

I am aware how many issues were added by the applicant [James & Phoenix, eco-villagers] and a number were identified today. I express no view today on if they have quality or if they require more than a summary judgment.

But in the circumstances of this exceptional case it is important we have a full understanding of the decision made by the court  below, and reflect with the advantage of a full transcript. And then in the light of that full transcript consider if the case can be pressed in full, or in a more restricted compass. This is so the parties and wider public can be satisfied in seeing the exact terms the learned judge made his decision. 

Therefore the court adjourn the permission to appeal, so that it is listed with an estimate for one half day with a full transcript so the courts can decide if there are grounds , with the appeal to follow on same occasion, of allowed.

A transcript is to be released and made available  and  the parties do what they can to press the shorthand writers for this to be released as soon a possible. The cost of this is to be met from public funds.

All written arguments by both sides are to be lodged  with the court 10 days before the hearing and provided to all parties. This is to take in account the points made by the applicants today [Phoenix & James] on the need for time to consider the legal case and that the applicants had only some access to legal advice.

In relation to forthwith action given to send in bailiffs; I will stay execution until the adjournment, to hold the ring. No judgement whatsoever should be taken from this.

This arrangement is to ensure confidence in process; not a judgement on matters.”

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