As the warmer weather is approaching, landowners often find that the sunshine coincides with an increase in the number of travelling people setting up home on their land. If landowners do find themselves in this position, there are a number of options available to them to legally remove the travellers.
Most local councils employ a “Travellers Community Liaison Officer” who can assist in finding an area for the travellers to move to, however this can take time. Often the presence of travellers can impact a business’ ability to carry on trading. In addition, travellers often leave rubbish, or cause damage to the land that they occupy. In these instances, landowners understandably want the travellers to move on sooner rather than later. The quickest means for removal is ordinarily through the courts.
The Court Process
Applications for removal are normally made to the local Sheriff Court. In the application, it’s important to give the Court detailed information about the position of the travellers, evidence of ownership of the land and any detail about the detrimental impact that they are having.
Once the action has been authorised, the Court will ordinarily fix a preliminary hearing, at which we would ask the Court for an order to remove the travellers immediately. Courts are often reluctant to do this and will normally fix a second hearing, which gives the travellers a period of around two to five days to lodge defences. If, at the second hearing, no defences have been lodged (which is the norm), the court will likely grant the order for removal. The court rules ordinarily require a “charge of removing” to be served before removing individuals from property. You can seek to have this requirement dispensed with and, whilst it’s a matter for the discretion of the Sheriff, they normally do grant dispensation.
The next step is to arrange for Sheriff Officers to serve the order. In the rare instance where the travellers refuse to leave despite being served with the court order, Sheriff Officers would be required to remove them by force, using tow trucks to physically remove their vehicles and possessions.
Potential issues around COVID-19
Sheriff Courts in Scotland are now only dealing with urgent business. Would the courts consider the removal of travellers to be urgent? Although guidance has been issued, what the Courts define as urgent is difficult to determine. Whilst their removal may be considered ‘urgent’ by landowners, it remains at the Court’s discretion. Legislative changes are already in effect which lengthen the notice period required to evict tenants, but its yet to be seen whether the court would view the removal of travellers in the same light.
Questions also arise over the ability to carry out the practical steps for removal. Sheriff Officers have been issued with guidance which states they must only act on urgent matters. On top of that, there’s the added uncertainty of how you adhere to “social distancing” whilst carrying out a removal.
Undoubtably, this is a challenging time to raise a court action for removal of travellers. Whilst landowners may, understandably, view the application as urgent, the Courts and Sheriff Officers may take a different approach. If you have any issues or concerns about the presence of travellers on your land, we recommend speaking to our Property Litigation team who will be able to assist.