A high court has ruled that the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has “unlawfully discriminated” against Romany Gypsies. A judge said both human rights and equality laws were breached by Pickles and his department “calling in” cases which would normally be considered by his planning inspectors.
The judge said Pickles was operating a legally flawed policy of “recovering” for his own consideration appeals by Travellers who claim there are exceptional circumstances for allowing them green belt sites. Mr Justice Gilbart, sitting in London, said an inspectors’ decision was normally received within eight weeks of the end of an inquiry – but it could take six months or more for a decision letter for a called-in case. No attempt had been made by Pickles and his ministers to follow steps required by the 2010 Equality Act to avoid indirect discrimination, and “substantial delays” had occurred in dealing with the appeals in violation of article 6 of the European convention on human rights, said the judge. The judge said Pickles’ department had “coined and developed” a practice in 2013 and 2014 of calling in all, and then a majority, of green belt Traveller cases – most involving Romany Gypsies or Irish Travellers – “which discriminated unlawfully against a racial group”.