The borough council has been dealt a blow in the High Court after a blanket ban on unauthorised encampments was ruled illegal.

Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) did have an interim injunction in place against unauthorised camps in and around Andover, extending from Weyhill to Picket Piece. However, it was one of 38 councils, alongside Hampshire County Council (HCC), named in court on Wednesday, May 12, where injunctions against ‘persons unknown’ were discharged.

While HCC’s injunction has been discharged immediately, TVBC has until May 19 to decide whether or not to proceed with its action, as it only had an interim order, and identify the ‘persons unknown’ it wishes to claim against.

TVBC called the decision "incredibly frustrating".

TVBC was granted an interim injunction against unauthorised encampments in July 2020, following a number of other councils across the country.

The injunction forbids encampments being set up in the named areas, with 89 named individuals specifically forbidden. In addition, ‘persons unknown’ could also be forced to move on, if given notice. The power of arrest was also attached to the injunction, meaning anyone refusing to leave could be prosecuted.

Since being introduced, the injunction has primarily been used on members of the Traveller Community, with one use on a camp set up in West Street Car Park, currently being used as the car park for The Lights vaccination centre.

In the meantime, TVBC voted in favour of lobbying the government to criminalise trespass using vehicles or for encampments. The leader of the council, Councillor Phil North, subsequently welcomed the announcement that the government would make residing on land without permission in vehicles an offences punishable with up to a £2,500, three months in prison or both.

The injunction had been criticised by Traveller organisations, such as Friends, Families and Travellers, who challenged the legality of such bans on ‘persons unknown’ in court, with 38 local authorities, including TVBC, named as claimants in the recent case.

A judge ruled that the bans as they stood were illegal, noting that “in a significant number of applications for interim injunctions, there were material and serious breaches of the procedural requirements and the procedures of the Court have been abused.”

Justice Nicklin said that the ban could not legally target newcomers to the area who were unaware of the injunction, and were not party to proceedings when the ban was made, following legal precedents set since 2019.

As a result, he ruled that TVBC had seven days to rule whether or not it wants to proceed with injunctions against ‘persons unknown’, and that he would bring the final hearing forward “speedily” if they chose to do so, at which point TVBC would need to identify the ‘persons unknown’.

Justice Nicklin added that he was “minded” to remove the power of arrest from any remaining injunction on named individuals at a future hearing.

Following the ruling, Mattey Mitchell, a Campaigns Officer at Friends, Families and Travellers, said: “This is a wonderful victory for justice, fairness and equality in a nation that prides itself on these values. Collective punishment should be a thing of the past, especially when it impacts communities already facing such harsh inequalities. Justice Nicklin’s judgement is a breath of fresh air in what can sometimes feel like a hopelessly hostile environment.”

In response to the ruling, Councillor North, said: “Our interim injunction and attached power of arrest granted by Judge Bird has worked extremely well in deterring unauthorised encampments, while giving the police the means to take robust and immediate action when incursions do occur.

“Unfortunately, following a recent judgement in the case of London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and Other Local Authorities, another judge, Judge Nicklin, has now expressed his desire to dismiss all final injunctions and remove the power of arrest from all local authorities with injunctions in place to act against unnamed individuals. It looks likely that this will come into effect from this coming Monday.

“Our interim injunction and power of arrest against named individuals remains in force and will continue to be so after Monday, though we have to bring our interim injunction to final hearing. Those named include the individuals responsible for very many of the unlawful encampments and associated nuisances which justified our original order. However, it’s incredibly frustrating that the order has muddied the waters considering the unequivocal judgement previously made that our action against named and unnamed persons was more than justified.

“We are, therefore, liaising with other local authorities and taking our own legal advice about opportunities to appeal.”

A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council, meanwhile, said they were unaware of their injunction, saying: “Hampshire County Council has no injunctions in place of this description and therefore this ruling will not impact on our activity.”