Randy, rating, and his (house)boat

18 April 2013 by

3568615Reeves v. Northrop, CA, 17 April 2013, – read judgment

Randy Northrop is a Californian and a wanderer in spirit. He lives with his family aboard MY Cannis – see the pic. He got fed up of “living in a grotty council house in a rough area” of Bristol, so bought and renovated this former Thames tug. And nice inside it sounds too – two open fireplaces, several flat screen TVs, a music room and grand piano.

He spent 8 years moored in Bristol, but the “authorities there aren’t too keen on “live-aboards.”” So he moved on and in 2008 ended up in North Devon moored off Chivenor.

How then did he have the misfortune to stray into one of the backwaters of the law – the law of council tax? Because, after featuring in the local paper, he made a generous offer “as a gesture of good citizenship” to pay some “voluntary” council tax. And instead of the authorities saying “how kind, than you very much” he got a “statement” saying that he was Band A – “fait accompli” as he rightly observed. But a po-faced response which did not indeed endear itself to Randy. Hence this challenge by him to the authorities’ decision.

Sounds a bit dry? Not at all. In the witty and elegant prose of Sir Alan Ward, even rating law is made interesting – and the retired Lord Justice pokes fun at the pompous verbiage you have to wade through to answer the question – do you have to pay council tax on a moored boat?

Randy, doing it himself, started well. His written appeal document began with Mark Twain

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

The Valuation Tribunal evidently did – they allowed his appeal. Because, in this reference to throwing off bowlines, Randy had put his finger on one of the big issues in such cases – how temporary or permanent was his occupation? If permanent, you have to pay council tax even on a boat. But if temporary, you don’t, and as he submitted

“Our intentions are to leave this mooring SOON.”

and which the Tribunal accepted. The Tribunal also attached importance to the fact that at high water you had to get to MY Cannis by tender; there was no sewerage and no other land services save a hose pipe.

Hence, in the opaque terminology of this area of the law

no rateable hereditament has been established

and so neither the mooring nor the MY Cannis should be entered as a dwelling on the council valuation list.

However, Randy met stiffer headwinds and adverse spring tides in front of a High Court judge, Wyn Williams J, when the Council appealed. The judge thought that the Tribunal did not attach sufficient importance to the fact that MY Cannis had been moored in the same position for 2 years – apart from a couple of occasions when she had broken free from her moorings (she is obviously a wanderer too). So the judge decided that the Tribunal had erred in law, and thus felt able to take the decision afresh, and found against Randy.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the judge – despite Randy now being represented by an able QC. One of the key tests was whether the occupation of the boat had the “character of permanence about it and is not too transient to be ignored.” The length of time was not simply a factor of weight but on the facts of this case the determinative one.

Comment

Sir Alan Ward was absolutely right to criticise the way in which the rating laws were drafted, with semi-meaningless statutes amplified by a valiant Practice Note.  As he put it after setting out 7 sections from 4 different Acts of Parliament

If prizes are to be offered for legislative gobbledegook then the foregoing would surely qualify. Having undertaken that trawl through these various statutes I confess to my shame I am no wiser nor would any ordinary citizen be without help from the Practice Note. That does at least make sense

The underlying concepts are not that difficult – but the way they are wrapped with up with ancient land law words like “hereditament” would feed the prejudices of anyone who felt that law was made deliberately obscure so that lawyers could make money out of it.

But it would be churlish to leave on this note, without celebrating Sir Alan’s prose. He has always sought to write his judgments (on the law of fire, for example) in lively and comprehensible English, retaining clarity of meaning despite the glutinous legal subject-matter and the learning expressed. Having dismissed Randy’s appeal, and in bowline-slipping mood himself, the judge confessed

I have a sneaking sympathy for him because he did not use many of the services which council tax is supposed to provide and it may have been harsh to list him in band A. But all of that is of no moment. He had indicated that he was soon to move and he has moved from the mooring. He has thrown off the bow lines and sailed away from the safe harbour though whether to catch the trade winds in his sails or just withstand the buffetings of the gales in the English Channel I know not. In as much as this is the penultimate judgment I shall write after 18 years in the Court of Appeal, I am a kindred spirit who has sailed away from the safe harbour of the Royal Courts of Justice, not at all sure how to explore, or what to dream or what I am about to discover.

A neat reminder of Randy’s Twainian opening salvo before the Tribunal.

 

Sign up to free human rights updates by email, Facebook, Twitter or RSS

 Related posts:

4 comments


  1. ObiterJ says:

    “Toodle pip”, Sir Alan. From time to time we all need to slip the bowlines so favourable tides to Randy and to Sir Alan.

  2. David Lamming says:

    Not only is Sir Alan witty, he has recently delivered some timely and withering comments on the Government’s legal aid changes, and the impact on the courts of having to deal with increasing numbers of self-represented litigants: see para 2 of his judgment in Wright v Michael Wright Supplies Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 234

  3. Guy Mansfield QC says:

    ** FROM GUY MANSFIELD QC **

    A jolly good read

    Guy

  4. May we wish Sir Alan all good fortune in his retirement from the bench.

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

Tags


Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption ALBA Al Qaeda animal rights anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 Artificial Intelligence Asbestos assisted suicide asylum Australia autism benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery Catholicism Chagos Islanders Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners climate change clinical negligence Coercion common law confidentiality consent conservation constitution contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs Court of Protection crime Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation deportation deprivation of liberty Detention disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Family Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage Gaza genetics Germany Google Grenfell Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests international law internet Inuit Iran Iraq Ireland Islam Israel Italy IVF Japan Judaism judicial review jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid Leveson Inquiry LGBTQ Rights liability Libel Liberty Libya Lithuania local authorities marriage mental capacity Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery music Muslim nationality national security NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury Piracy Plagiarism planning Poland Police Politics pollution press Prisoners Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia Saudi Arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing statelessness stop and search Strasbourg Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treaty TTIP Turkey UK Ukraine USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wind farms WomenInLaw YearInReview Zimbabwe
%d bloggers like this: