Home Office announces criminal liability for unauthorised travellers who camp on public and private land

England and Wales

Currently, most cases of trespass are dealt with as civil matters. Only ‘aggravated trespass’ can lead to arrest, and this often proves difficult to demonstrate when issuing proceedings.

However, the Home Office has announced that it will introduce new intentional trespass legislation which will enable police to seize vehicles and prosecute travellers who set up camp on public and private land. Under the proposed legislation, police will also have powers to prosecute travellers if they return to a site within 12 months, an increase from the current three months. Further, the new legislation is likely to have far wider applicability as police will have the power to act in relation to two or more illegally parked caravans (the current threshold is six). Travellers who ignore a landowner's request to move their vehicles on will face arrest, which will carry a three-month maximum prison sentence or a fine of up to £2,500, or both.

It is understood that Ministers will define ‘trespass’ in a way that does not criminalise walkers who enter private land and does not restrict the right to roam. Criminal trespassing will be limited to people over the age of 18 who have failed to respond to requests from landowners or police to leave, intend to reside on the land, are using vehicles and have cause or are likely to cause ‘significant damage, disruption or distress’. Significant disruption will include interfering with utility supplies, excessive noise pollution or litter. It is anticipated, but not yet clear, that the civil sanctions for fly tipping and squatting in commercial premises will remain unaffected.

The measures will apply to trespassers on both private land and public spaces such as village greens and school playing fields, but it is not yet confirmed the extent to which this will apply to private property.

It is thought that the criminal sanctions will help deter illegal encampments and the reform will therefore be welcomed by many commercial landlords.

Article co-authored by Mia Spedding.