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.

Comments are closed.

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


Tags


Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals 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 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation 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 Secret trials sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

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.

%d bloggers like this: