In this series I will be setting out some of the real-life stories the Bach Commission has been told by people and organisations on the front line.
They show why public opinion polls have always valued access to good legal advice – and from there to a court (if necessary) – as one of the most valuable rights a state can bestow on its citizens.
Here is the first story.
The story of two gypsies
Alfred is a retired Romani Gypsy and occupier of a pitch on a site owned and run by local authority Barsetshire. As a result of amendments to the Mobile Homes Act 1983 local authorities were obliged to provide written statements which contain all the terms implied by that Act and any additional express terms of the agreement. Eventually Barsetshire handed out written statements. These statements changed certain of the statutory implied terms. It is unlawful to change the implied terms. One of the implied terms that was changed in the agreement was with regard to succession.
The term that Barsetshire placed in the agreement stated that a family member could only succeed to the tenancy if they had lived with the resident for one year (there is no such time limit in the implied term contained in the Mobile Homes Act 1983). Because Alfred could not obtain any advice and assistance under the Legal Aid scheme, he did not challenge the unlawful written statement that was imposed on him and the other residents.
Two years later Alfred fell very ill. With the permission of the local authority, Alfred’s son Charlie gave up his pitch on another local authority’s site and moved onto Alfred’s pitch to look after him. Unfortunately, six months after Charlie had moved onto the pitch, Alfred died. Charlie asked the local authority to allow him to succeed to the pitch agreement but they refused. They based their refusal on the unlawful term in the written statement since Charlie had not lived on the pitch for one year.
Charlie could not get any advice on this because it was outside the scope of legal aid (Charlie had been looking after his father full time and was on benefits).
He was forced to resort to roadside encampments from which, since then, he has been continually evicted after short periods of time.
Is this justice?