Freddie Humphreys has successfully appeared on behalf of Stoke-on-Trent City Council in a case stated concerned with a prosecution brought for breach of a planning enforcement notice.

The Appellant had been convicted in the Magistrates Court for failing to comply with the terms of an enforcement notice. The enforcement notice had alleged a breach of planning control which stemmed from construction works to a residential property in a conservation area in breach of an Article 4 Direction. The Appellant’s defence to the charge had been to argue that the Council couldn’t prove that an Article 4 Direction was in place and so he couldn’t be guilty of an offence. This contention was rejected and the Justices found that on the balance of probability the Council had proved the existence of the Article 4 Direction on the balance of probabilities.

The Appellant applied to the Justices to state a case to the High Court, which they did raising two questions:

  1. Was it open to us to consider forms of evidence out-with the terms of section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in determining the existence of the Article 4 Direction ?
  2. Were we correct in applying the civil standard of proof to this discreet (sic) aspect of the case?

The Council resisted the challenge to the decision of the Magistrates by arguing that the questions didn’t arise. S.285 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 was engaged in this case and what the Appellant was in reality seeking to do was challenging the validity of the Enforcement Notice. That was not open to him to do and the matter for the courts to consider when determining the prosecution should have been limited to the simple question of whether the enforcement notice had been breached.

Stoke’s arguments were accepted by the High Court with Mr Justice Knowles finding:

“It follows that, I consider that the questions posed by the justices for this Court’s opinion do not arise. The justices were not concerned with the existence or otherwise of an Article 4 Direction: the Enforcement Notice was valid, and the only issue for them was whether the Appellant had breached it. As to that, there was only one answer. He plainly had.”

The decision should be of some utility to LPA’s looking to bring prosecutions for breach of enforcement notices, confirming the scope of what is required to be proved in such prosecutions.

The judgment can be found at:

Freddie Humphreys was instructed by Trevor Vernon on behalf of Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

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