Traveller Law Research Unit:
Cardiff Law School
Between March 1995 and April 1998, the Telephone Legal Advice Service for Travellers (TLAST) provided a telephone legal advice service for Gypsies and Travellers in England and Wales who, due to their lifestyle, face particular legal problems exacerbated by the inaccessibility of legal services. The often isolated locations of Travellers make access to specialist legal advice by telephone more user-friendly, due to the increased use of mobile telephones amongst the Traveller community. TLAST was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, while Cardiff Law School covered infrastructure costs.
About half the calls received by TLAST were from Gypsies and Travellers, the other half being from Traveller-related service providers such as health visitors; educators; planners; lawyers; community development workers; Environment Health and other local government officers; members of the church and other private landowners seeking to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers; academics; police officers; Traveller, equality and more general organisations; and the media.
Many calls regarding evictions under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 were received, although less than had been expected. Many calls related to matters of planning law and policy, and to discrimination. A small number of calls were received from people wishing to complain about the poor quality of their holiday packages! Although TLAST was set up to service England and Wales, calls were also received from and contacts made in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Europe.
TLAST came to an end as of April 30th 1998, as it was felt that an insufficient quantity of calls had been received (approximately 1200 in the 3 years) to justify its continuation. However, the closure of the service did not result in a vacuum, as in addition to the assistance and information provided to a wide range of people and organisations over the years, TLAST is believed to have realised a number of concrete achievements:
The collation of a broad network of Travellers and Traveller-related service providers – in particular, ‘Traveller-friendly’ lawyers – across the country, facilitating networking and information-sharing amongst service providers and improving the access of Gypsies and Travellers to such providers.
The production of a newsletter, Travellers’ Times, which proved to be a useful networking and information-sharing tool and which is now sent to over 1600 individuals and organisations throughout the UK and the world.
The publication of a number of articles and directories, including the County / Unitary Authority-based Directory of Traveller-related Contacts in England & Wales, which further provided the means of increasing contact with useful people and information regarding the law and services relating to Gypsies and Travellers.
A conference on Traveller law reform in March 1997, at which nearly 100 Travellers and service providers took the first step towards discussion and agreement of necessary reforms for Gypsies and Travellers in Britain.
From May 1998 for one year the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust funded TLRU to undertake research into the outcome for Travellers of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and to develop the process of law reform started at the conference; Cardiff Law School continued to pay the infrastructure costs. Both have recently granted the Unit further support to continue research and facilitation of a process of law reform until October 2000.
Ongoing TLRU work
Practical and realistic ideas for law reform were debated by a wide range of individuals and organisations, including Gypsies and Travellers and their organisations, at working group meetings and at a 2nd Conference on Traveller Law Reform held in London in February 1999 (attended by over 200 people). All of the reforms were brought together in the book Gaining Ground: Law Reform for Gypsies and Travellers, edited by Rachel Morris (TLRU Co-ordinator) and Luke Clements (TLRU Co-Director, with Professor Phil Thomas). This is published by the University of Hertfordshire Press, and was launched on 18th May 1999 in the Moses Room of the House of Lords, hosted by Lord Avebury.
It is hoped that the book will inform ongoing debate on and assist in lobbying for law reform. The Unit has, along with national Gypsy and Traveller organisations, met with such Ministers as Chris Mullin (DETR) and Jack Straw (Home Office) to discuss the books’ findings and ways of taking them forward.
TLRU continues to facilitate networking; and to research and publish on the laws, policies and practices which affect Gypsies and Travellers. We speak at local authority and other events on these matters, and during the academic year 1999/2000 hope to teach on modules in Cardiff Law School and the University Wales Cardiff School of Journalism relating to press regulation and press coverage of Gypsy and Traveller issues. We no longer provide legal advice and assistance and cannot get involved in individual cases, but can offer referral to ‘Traveller-friendly’ lawyers and other service providers.
TLRU has just completed a short project for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which collates and analyses all the other research ever undertaken on the health and social care needs of Gypsies and Travellers. It clearly shows a link between health and site conditions, and we are looking for funding to enable us to look at the rate of accidents, in particular, among Traveller children, and the impact of site conditions, which would include collaboration with health researchers at the University of Warwick. If a bid were successful this work would take place from October 2000.
Our current project, which will be completed in October 2000, includes three distinct but complementary objectives:
to draft a Private Member’s Bill to promote equal access to justice for Gypsies and other Travellers (tentatively entitled the Accommodation Law Reform Bill);
to undertake a survey of local authority expenditure on the response to unauthorised encampments’ and to consult directly with local authority and central government representatives on our findings via a seminar and survey report in order to highlight issues of best practice, ‘best value’ and human rights:
to sustain TLRU’s neutral facilitative role a 3rd Conference on Traveller Law Reform to highlight the survey findings, promote the draft Private Members’ Bill, and lobby for a government-sponsored task force as the next step in the reform process.
In addition, in February 2000 TLRU was granted joint funding, with the Rural Media Company (RMC) in Hereford, to continue and develop the production of our newsletter Travellers’ Times (see latest issue enclosed) which offers a focal point to promote information exchange among the newsletter’s 1,500+ readers as well as providing a lobbying tool to sustain and build the momentum for further developments towards Traveller-related law and policy reforms. In future the newsletter will benefit from more Traveller input and RMC will be training and involving young Travellers in photography and other graphics skills which can contribute to the newsletter and an associated web site.
Unit Directors: Luke Clements, Professor Phil Thomas (Cardiff)
Co-ordinator: Rachel Morris
Advisory Group: Susan Alexander, Co-ordinator, Friends Families and Travellers, Brighton; The Lord Avebury, London; Sandra Clay, Co-ordinator, County of Cardiff Traveller Education Service; Sylvia Dunn, President, National Association of Gypsy Women, Essex; Eli Frankham, President, National Romani Rights Association, Cambridgeshire; Hester Hedges, law student, De Montfort University, Leicester; Yvonne MacNamara, Researcher, BIAS Irish Travellers Project, London; Peter Mercer MBE, General Secretary, East Anglian Gypsy Council, Cambridgeshire; Charles Smith, Chair, Gypsy Council for Education, Culture, Welfare and Civil Rights, Essex; Tim Wilson, Liaison Officer, Cardiff Gypsy Sites Group.
For further information contact :
Traveller Law Research Unit
Cardiff Law School
P O Box 427