There are laws in place that have a direct effect on the lives of Gypsies and Travellers, some which work in their favour and some which do not.
Gypsies and Travellers have historically been nomadic, and in recent years they have tended to make caravan sites their homes. This has been allowed, most notably by the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which made all county councils duty-bound to provide caravan sites for Gypsies and Travellers.
However, many county councils didn’t comply with this duty, and the duty was subsequently repealed by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This act also gave police the power to evict Gypsies and Travellers who park their caravans on other sites without authorisation.
County councils are still allowed to provide special caravan sites for Gypsies and Travellers under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, but not many public authorities do so.
Eviction and security of tenure
Travellers have more protection from eviction than you might think. Legal advice should be sought if needing to evict travellers from your land.
Racism and discrimination
Certain types of Traveller, such as Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers, have successfully proven themselves to be a protected ethnic minority in the past, and as such, have the right to be free from racial harassment and discrimination. This gives Gypsies and Travellers the same protection from discrimination that all other ethnic minorities receive under UK and European human rights law.
There are certain situations in which indirect discrimination against Gypsies or Travellers could be allowed – for instance, if registration with a school or another organisation required applicants to have a fixed address, thereby disqualifying Gypsies and Travellers due to their way of life.
However, this kind of treatment is only acceptable if the organisation has a justification, beyond simply wishing to exclude Travellers.
Human rights to education
Regardless of how they live, Gypsies and Travellers are of course entitled to the same human rights that everyone under the umbrella of the European Convention on Human Rights has.
For instance, young Gypsies and Travellers are as entitled to an education as any other child before school leaving age – in fact, failure by a parent to ensure that their child gets a good education would constitute breaking the law.
However, the law recognises that a regular school education would be very difficult to access for a Traveller, their nomadic lifestyle being inherently incompatible with the idea of settling at a school for an extended period of time.
Most local councils have a Traveller Education Service operating in the area, which works to provide support for Travellers and ensure that their children can get a good education. Like all parents, Gypsies and Travellers also have the option of educating their children themselves, away from school.
However, if the local education authority is not satisfied that the child is receiving an adequate education, they can take action, such as serving a school attendance order (requiring the child to attend a school) or an education supervision order (assigning an education social worker to work with the parent and child, making sure that the child is being educated to a reasonable standard).