By Nathan Lee, TLE Correspondent
Community members from Runnymede Eco-Village are celebrating a momentous win after their application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal, asserting rights under Magna Carta, was adjourned by a High Court judge.
In what was described by Pete Phoenix as a “major victory for civil liberties and land rights”, bailiffs for luxury property developers at the Runnymede site have been told to stand down after the High Court in London granted them a stay of execution in possession proceedings.
The land is sought by Orchid Runnymede Limited who want to develop it with the Royalton Group for the elite property market. Phoenix added that the decision opens “the discussion over access to land to enable people to live in a low-impact, sustainable and off-grid way.”
Mr Justice Knowles prevented Orchid Runnymede’s enforcement of a summary order of possession and directed them to immediately stand down bailiffs who had arrived at the village prior to the hearing. The villagers, many of whom had stayed at the eco-village to hold off the bailiffs had feared a Dale Farm-style clearance by the contracted bailiffs company Constant & Co. The judge questioned the need for a forthwith order and this is a matter that the villagers will raise at the appeal hearing, given the families and livestock on the land.
The judge ruled the stay of execution was necessary so the Court of Appeal could properly assess whether the eco-village residents were given a full and fair hearing in Guildford County Court on 15th June – the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The villagers’ case included assertions of rights under the Magna Carta, its companion Charter of the Forest and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Justice Knowles recognised the powerful symbolism of the competing interests in this “exceptional” case when he ruled:
“Given the exceptional location and the history associated with [Runnymede & Coppers Hill Coppice], and the competing and directly differing interests – one seeking possession of ancient forest [for private development] the other side seeking to remain on a site occupied for three years [and to continue to subsist in common from the land].”
In granting an adjournment, Mr Justice Knowles accepted that many matters previously raised by the applicants might not of been dealt with adequately by the lower Court, or dealt with in an insufficient manner, and directed an adjournment so this could be established .
Julie Timbrell of New Putney Debates and Occupy Democracy, groups who are among those helping the villagers with their legal case, said: “The Villagers sense of the lower court judgment was that property rights trumped all other rights. But villagers contended that this is wrong in principle and that the judge failed to address properly the villagers’ right to sustain themselves in the common realm, to live on waste land and to feed and house themselves through their own efforts, in community. Villagers pointed out that the Charter of the Forest, the companion to the Magna Carta, gave these rights”