The court has recently confirmed that private landowners may have claims for possession against squatters defended on the basis of the trespasser’s right to a home under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Private landowners allowed an energy company to carry out exploratory drilling to ascertain whether the land could be exploited by “fracking”. The defendants set up a protest camp on land owned by the landlords and the landlords then sought to re-gain possession of the land by issuing proceedings.
The defendant trespassers raised a number of defences including the prospect that their right to a home under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act had been infringed and that a claim for possession would represent a disproportionate interference with their Article 8 rights. It has previously been accepted that a public authority would have to take account of Article 8 rights when seeking possession of land.
The High Court concluded that the court is a public authority which the private landowner was using to claim ownership of his land and, as a public authority, the court can only do so on terms that respect the convention rights of all relevant parties. In this case the convention rights of the parties included the Article 8 rights of the trespassers, but also the rights of the landowner under Article 1 of the first Protocol, which provide individuals with the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions.
The Court concluded that a Landlord’s rights to peaceful enjoyment of possessions would only be outweighed by a trespasser’s article 8 rights in exceptional circumstances, which, in this case, the defendants failed to demonstrate.
Although the defendants were unsuccessful in this case, it will be interesting to see whether such arguments are raised in future possession claims against private landowners.