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Gypsy and Traveller groups are some of the most marginalised people in the UK. They face systemic prejudice and discrimination that pervades their children’s education, their family’s medical care and their community’s traditional nomadic lifestyle.
Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee found that Gypsy and Traveller communities experience, “the worst outcomes of any ethnic group across a huge range of areas, including education, health, employment, criminal justice and hate crime.”
And in a 2017 survey of Gypsy and Traveller groups in the UK, 91 percent reported experiencing discrimination and 77 percent reported experiencing hate speech or hate crimes.
In recent years, a raft of new legislation, including in particular the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, has sought to attack or limit the Gypsy and Traveller way of life.
Faced with this worsening situation, we commissioned Helen Mountfield QC (of Matrix Chambers) and Marc Willers QC, Tessa Buchanan and Owen Greenhall (of Garden Court Chambers) to survey the legal landscape for Gypsy and Traveller groups, and ask whether it complies with the UK’s legal obligations.
The Opinion is essential reading for anyone who believes that there should be no ‘acceptable racisms’ left in our society, and that the law should give every group the same opportunities to live and thrive. It can be read here.
It focuses on two pillars of Gypsy and Traveller life: their continuing nomadism and their choice to live in caravans. Decades of policy decisions have created a shortage of authorised public caravan sites and increased barriers to obtaining planning permission for private sites.
This is Counsels’ damning summary of the current state of affairs:
“The UK Government’s current approach, in policy and national law, places the
UK in breach of obligations which it has undertaken as a matter of international law to
facilitate the Gypsy and Traveller way of life and to refrain from discriminating against
disabled people, the elderly or women. The practical effect of the combination of
circumstances and law described in this Opinion is such that they currently make this
traditional way of life almost impossible to pursue.”
It is clear that a traditional nomadic way of life has been all but legislated out of existence. And this is a view echoed by Gypsy and Traveller communities:
“Members of Romany Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have long expressed their significant fear and anxiety over the barbaric Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, and of their treatment at the hands of the State more broadly. We share their deep concern with the raft of reactionary legislation that will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable people in society. As these provisions come into place it is vital for organisations and individuals to stand in solidarity with marginalised groups.” – The Traveller Movement
Good Law Project only exists thanks to donations from people across the UK. If you’re in a position to support our work, you can do so here.
You can learn more about the work of the Traveller Movement here.