The solicitor who represented Paul Davies in the recent Kennet & Avon Canal 'continuous cruiser' case says the result is not the precedent setting victory that British Waterways is claiming it to be and she has issued the following statement:
Case of National Importance for Narrow Boat Dwellers
The rivers and canals in and around city centres are rightly regarded as one of the city’s major attractions but they also represent home to a large community of narrowboat dwellers. A recent court ruling in favour of British Waterways has placed that way of life in jeopardy and the Housing Department of solicitors Stone King, is involved in pioneering action to protect it.
British Waterways brought a test case against Bath area riverboat dweller Paul Davies when he was taken to court for breaching guidelines relating to cruising patterns. The case has forced British Waterways to refine its guidelines governing so-called “continuous cruisers”.
The guidelines (which paraphrase the law) state that narrowboaters like Mr Davies, who live on the canal without having a permanent mooring, should be regarded as ‘continuous cruisers’ and thus required to make ‘substantial journeys’ along the entire canal network. Mr Davies argued that the guidelines did not accurately represent the law, which has never been defined.
The judge held that, in these particular circumstances, moving the boat "every so often up and down a short stretch of canal" did not constitute bona fide navigating and gave Mr Davies three months in which to navigate further, or find a permanent mooring. Stone King’s Geraldine Winkler (who represented Mr Davies) believes the decision raises more questions than it answers.
Stone King Housing Lawyer, Ms Geraldine Winkler says: “This is the first time that the Act and guidelines have undergone proper scrutiny in a court. The judgement has forced British Waterways to consider a more realistic interpretation of what “bona fide navigation” actually means.
The judgment refers only to the Davies case, which means that it doesn’t necessarily create a legal precedent and for two reasons: Firstly, it is only persuasive in a court of the same level and secondly it was decided on its own facts. There are a number of questions that were raised in the court and not decided on, and the effect of the fact Paul lived on the boat was not clear. Nevertheless, there may be a concern it could be used to influence future cases, which could lead to narrowboat owners being made homeless.
British Waterways have hailed the outcome as a victory but it’s clear that as each case should be judged on its merits, narrowboat-dwellers have no reason to lose hope. It’s crucial therefore that people living on the narrowboats around Bath or beyond who are threatened with, or facing seizure by British Waterways, are properly represented in court.
My view is that a workable resolution will only be achieved when the parties concerned reach a compromise, but that may be some way off yet.”
The case and the community attracted some considerable media interest (The Society in the Guardian, BBC Points West and the One Show).
For more information, please contact Geraldine Winkler, Housing Lawyer at Stone King on 01225 324406.
Website: Stone King Solicitors