So the encampment at Dale Farm has been broken up. The travellers and protestors have left. The final throw of the litigious dice has failed, and the expulsion has been achieved.
How did the judicial route, once seemingly so endlessly promising, ultimately turn into a cul-de-sac?
The details of what was to be done by way of implementation of the enforcement notices (entitling the Council to act) were finally judged sufficient to allow the action. And a last minute dependence on the Human Rights Act proved of no avail: the argument had come too late in the day to make a difference. In any event, ruled Ouseley J on the 12th October, the local authority had lawfully and rationally considered the proportionality of its conduct and had taken the claimants' personal circumstances, health and education into account when making its decision. The planning system and the criminal law could not be indefinitely defied, thereby bringing both into disrepute. The interests of the children of the campers were being looked after - if the families did not take up the offer of alternative bricks and mortar accommodation then that was their problem, not that of the Council.
Sure there would be distress just as there had already been a vast expenditure of legal costs. But that was simply how it had to be.
- will David Cameron, Teresa May, Melanie Phillips, the Daily Mail and all the other Human Rights Act haters now praise the Act for its failure to provide protection for the travellers? Or do they only notice the measure when opportunity gives them a chance to disparage it?
- will Basildon Council think hard about its statutory duty to provide sites for travellers? Will other councils?
- will this case lead to copycat acts of legalised brutality across the country?
- Should it worry us that the Human Rights Act is so marginal in a case like this, while being so vital where you might think interests are much less central to people's lives than they were here?
- Does this show up the limitations inherent in any human rights law intended to operate in a way that complements rather than subverts the status quo?