Traveller Law Database

Buckley v. The United Kingdom (Application Number 20348/92)

Date of Decision: Sun, 29 Sep 1996
Decision Making Body: European Court of Human Rights
Law Applied: European Convention on Human Rights
Keywords: Article 8 ECHR, Article 14 ECHR, Culturally Appropriate Accommodation, Discrimination, Legitimate Interference, Enforcement Order, Planning Permission, Caravan Sites Act 1968, Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Gypsy, Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Circular 01/94 - Gypsy Sites and Planning,
Full Case Details - Download Full Judgment (pdf)

The Applicant, Ms. Buckley, argued that a refusal of planning permission to station her caravans on rural land she owned was contrary to her right to private and family life under Article 8 ECHR. The European Court of Human Rights found that there was no breach of Mrs Buckley’s rights. The Local Authority had justified reasons to interfere with the Applicant’s Article 8 rights and the UK had given adequate consideration of her special minority rights against the general interest of the community. Buckley was the first case ever initiated by a Gypsy applicant referred to the Court by the then European Commission of Human Rights.


The Applicant (Ms. Buckley) accused the complainant (Government of the United Kingdom) to have breached Article 8 and 14 ECHR. Ms. Buckley was a British citizen, a Gypsy and single mother of three at the time of the case. She lived in caravans parked on land owned by her in South Cambridgeshire, England 

The site in South Cambridgeshire had been owned by her sister, who had been “granted personal, temporary planning permission for one living unit, comprising two caravans”. In 1988 Ms. Buckley acquired part of that land. In 1989, she applied to South Cambridgeshire District Council for planning permission for three caravans on her site. She was refused in March 1990 on the grounds that: 

  1. Adequate provision has been made for Gypsy caravans elsewhere in the area and the area had reached “saturation point” for Gypsy accommodation, 
  2. Proposed use of the land would detract from the rural and open quality of the landscape contrary to local plans to protect the countryside from all but essential development, and 
  3. The area in question was an agricultural road too narrow to allow two vehicles to pass in safety. 

Ms. Buckley had the option to appeal on a point of law but was advised by Counsel that no grounds arose in her case. An enforcement notice was issued in April 1990, requiring the removal of the caravans within one month. This was appealed to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who commissioned an inspector to report. The report dated 14 December 1991, recommended the appeal be dismissed. The report highlighted “a need … for more authorized spaces” but that it was “important to keep concentrations of sites for gypsies[sic] small” so that “they are more readily accepted by the local community.”

 Buckley appealed the refusal, and a further report was produced in May 1995 finding that the previous issues of road safety objections no longer applied, and issues of visibility could be easily resolved with adequate screening. However, they concluded, "the continuation of the land as Gypsy caravan sites is harmful to the character and appearance of the countryside".

In November 1992, a Council-run Gypsy caravan site was opened on Meadow Drive, 700m away from Ms. Buckley y’s land. The Council contacted Ms. Buckley by letter on 17 February 1992 and encouraged her to apply for one of the vacancies. Ms. Buckley took no action in this regard. 

By May 1993, the Secretary of State designated the area of South Cambridgeshire, under Section 12 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which made "it an offence for any Gypsy to station a caravan within the designated areas with the intention of living in it for any period of time". From the 3rd November 1994, section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (the 1994 Act) came into effect which gave local authorities the power to direct an unauthorised camper to move and allowed for the authorisation by a Magistrate’s Court to order the removal of caravans parked in contravention. On 20 January 1994, the Council again wrote to Ms. Buckley inviting her to apply for a pitch in the official caravan site and she again took no action. The Applicant was prosecuted for failure to comply with the enforcement notice on several occasions between May 1990 and November 1994. 

On 19 September 1994, Mrs Buckley again applied for planning permission and was subsequently refused on 14 November 1994 because: 

  1. Local policy still restricted countryside development and 
  2. Adequate provision for Gypsies had been made elsewhere in the area. 

The appeal was dismissed on 12 December 1995 Ms. Buckley filed an appeal to the High Court which was pending at the time of the case. 

 Buckley complained to the European Commission of Human Rights in 1992 within which she claimed that the refusal of the British authorities to grant her permission to live on her own land violated her right to respect for private and family life, Article 8 ECHR. Before the ECtHR, Ms. Buckley further contended that domestic planning laws and policy did not take due respect to the traditional lifestyle of Gypsies and is discriminatory (ECHR, Article 14 taken together with Article 8). In January 1995 the European Commission of Human Rights decided in a majority 7-5 decision that the United Kingdom had violated Ms. Buckley’s Art 8 rights.

This was then followed by the 1996 ECtHR decision within which Ms Buckley alleged breaches of Article 8 and Article 14 ECHR. In particular, Ms Buckley submitted that the UK authorities had violated her Article 8 rights by refusing to give her permission to station permanently, on her land, caravans in which she had been living together with her family. She further submitted that the United Kingdom's legislation on town planning discriminated against Gypsies by preventing them from pursuing their traditional lifestyle (The 1968 Caravan Sites Act and the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act).


Article 8 Violation

Buckley alleged that she was being prevented from living with her family in caravans on her land and from following the traditional lifestyle of a Gypsy, contrary to Article 8 ECHR. The Government disputed this. In its contention, only a “home” legally established could attract the protection of Article 8. Ms. Buckley submission argued that there was nothing in the wording of Article 8 to suggest that the concept of “home” was limited to residences that had been lawfully established.

 Buckley further claimed that the designation system under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and the criminalisation of “unauthorised camping” under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 discriminates against Gypsies by preventing them from pursuing their traditional lifestyle. She submitted that this discrimination on the grounds of her Gypsy status was contrary to Article 14 of the Convention taken together with Article 8.

Article 14 Violation

The Government argued that planning laws were necessary for a modern society for the preservation of urban and rural landscapes and reflected the needs of the entire population. However, Ms. Buckley argued that the burden placed on her was disproportionate. Seeking to act within the law, she purchased a site to provide a safe and stable environment for her children. The Government claims that special protection for Gypsies has been taken into account, meeting their accommodation needs through the provision of authorized caravan sites. Ms. Buckley drew attention to the fact that the official site in the locality had proved unsuitable for a single woman with children owing to anti-social behaviour therein. Submitting that the official site could therefore not be considered an acceptable alternative. 


Article 8 

Article 8(2) ECHR notes that ‘there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.’ In determining whether a situation breaches Article 8, the Court will decide as to whether an interference is justifiable by a public authority, following the law and necessary. Any such interference must be proportionate and pursue a legitimate aim. In this case, the Court found that there had been no violation of Article 8ECHR. The Court was satisfied that proper regard had been taken, both under the regulatory framework which contained adequate procedural safeguards protecting her interest under Article 8 and by the responsible planning authorities when arriving at the contested decision after weighing in the balance the various competing interests. 

Regarding the Government’s contention around the definition of “home”. The Court, in applying the case of Gillow v. the United Kingdom Application no. 9063/80 (European Court of Human Rights, November 24, 1986), was satisfied the Applicant had bought the land to establish her residence there, therefore “the case, therefore, concerns the Applicants right to respect for her home”. Due to this, the Court deemed it not necessary to decide if there were concerns to the Applicant's right to respect for her private and family life. 

In respect to interference by a public body, the Court found that the Applicant had been prosecuted under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which involved enforcement notices to remove the caravans and fines for failure to do so. The Court found that this “undoubtedly constitutes interference by a public authority” in respect for their home. As the Applicant did not dispute the legitimacy, the Court accepted the measures had a legitimate aim 

Concerning whether the interference was “necessary in a democratic society”. The Court accepted that member states have a margin of appreciation in applying the ECHR within domestic contexts, but their decisions remain open to review by the Court for ECHR conformity. The Court had to balance the interest of the community against the Applicant’s right to respect for her “home”. The Court stated that respect to her home also included “a right which is pertinent to her and her children’s personal security and well-being". 

The Court also stated Article 8 does not “go so far as to allow individuals’ preference as to their place of residence to override the general interests”. The Court found, given the appeal procedures, which included an independent inspector, that the regulatory framework in place had adequate safeguards to protect the Applicant's interest under Article 8. 

Therefore, the Court found that there had not been a violation of Article 8 and were satisfied that the reasons relied on by the responsible planning authorities were relevant and sufficient, to justify the resultant interference with the exercise of the Applicant's right to respect for their home under Article 8 ECHR. 

Article 14 and Article 8 Violation

The Court found it cannot consider any claims under the 1994 and 1968 Acts, as it does not review legislation in the abstract and the order that designated the area in question, came in well after enforcement had begun. The Court stated, in general, it did not appear that the Applicant had suffered any penalty or detrimental treatment for attempting to follow a traditional lifestyle. 

Dissenting Opinions 

Judge Repik, in a partly dissenting opinion, agreed with the majority that Article 8 was applicable and there had been no violation of Article 14. Judge Repik disagreed with the finding that there were no Article 8 violations, in particular, that the issue was necessary for a democratic society. He instead felt a fair balance had not been struck between the Applicant’s rights and the interest of society and the interference, therefore, had not been justified under Article 8.2. 

Finally, Judge Petitti's in his dissenting opinion noted that in his opinion that there had been a violation of Article 8 and Article 14. Holding that there had been an “unreasonable combinations of measures” that were only targeted at Gypsy families. They found that no effective procedural safeguards were available in the facts at hand, and the Government’s approach was to prioritise the protection of the landscape over the respect for family life inherent in Article 8. 


The Court held that there had not been a violation of Article 8 or Article 14 when considered in conjunction with Art 8.


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