Jan 15 2013 By court reporter
grow heathrow high court
SQUATTERS' rights came under the spotlight today as campaigners occupying land on the likely route of Heathrow's proposed third runway launched a unique legal bid to stay.
The Grow Heathrow group say they have transformed a scruffy site once used by fly-tippers into an idyllic market garden and eviction will violate their human rights.
And, in the first case of its kind, Appeal Court judges are today (Tuesday) being asked to decide whether the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) should apply to private landowners.
Given the widespread importance of the issues raised by the case, Lords Justice Ward, Lloyd and Toulson are expected to reserve their decision until a later date.
Imran Malik, who paid s240,000 for the land in Vineries Close, West Drayton, in 2003, says his private property rights should take precedence and the trespassers should be ordered to leave forthwith.
The campaigners were in July last year given six weeks to leave by Judge Karen Walden-Smith but are now challenging that decision before three of the country's most senior judges.
The judge had acknowledged the "social value" of the garden lovingly grown by the squatters and controversially upheld their arguments that Article 8 of the ECHR - which enshrines the right to respect for privacy and family life - could be applied to a private landowner.
However, in granting Mr Malik a possession order, she said that it would be wrong to keep him out of land for which he had paid a six-figure sum and that she had no power to delay the group's eviction on grounds of "exceptional hardship".
To take into account the "socially useful" activities of the squatters on the site would "run entirely contrary to the principle of private ownership of land", she said.
Challenging that ruling today, Jan Luba QC, for the campaigners, said that their Article 8 rights should have held sway and, at the very least, the judge should have given them substantially longer than six weeks to quit their homes.
The judges were told that, prior to the squatters moving in in March last year, the land had been the scene of fly-tipping and had been used by the previous tenant as a dumping ground for used cars.
The market garden now flourishing on the site had "significantly greater social advantages" than any previous or any likely future use of the land, argued the barrister.
However, Naomi Winston, for Mr Malik, pointed out that he has his own human right to freely enjoy his private property. Judge Walden-Smith was right to rule that the eviction of trespassers was "a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".
Subjective views on the social value of the group's activities were of limited, if any, relevance, argued the barrister, who added that the court had no power to delay eviction of trespassers on hardship grounds.
Miss Winston said that the group had been granted "a further period of grace" whilst their appeal is heard and the time had now come to hand back to Mr Malik his private property.