Court Rules in Favor of London Borough Council in Mooring Dispute with Alistair Trotman

Citation: [2024] EWHC 9 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

The High Court of Justice’s decision in The Mayor and Burgess of the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames v Alistair Trotman [2024] EWHC 9 (KB) is a substantive case that explores the legal breadth and maneuvering room available for parties involved in the mooring of vessels near riverbanks, particularly those governed by local byelaws. This article delves into the legal principles applied by His Honour Judge Blair KC and scrutinizes the outcome of the proceedings which revolved around issues of public nuisance, trespass, and statutory rights of navigation.

Key Facts

The case centers on the claimant, the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames Council, seeking a prohibitory injunction against the defendant, Alistair Trotman, to prevent him from mooring any vessel adjacent to the Thames riverbanks owned by the claimant. Trotman, who appeared in person, was accused of breaching council byelaws and causing public nuisance by mooring his vessel, Kupe, within three meters of the riverbank over a period exceeding six months.

Initially, an interim injunction with a power of arrest was granted, based on the evidence that the defendant’s mooring practices obstructed other river users. Trotman challenged this interim injunction and sought judicial review against the local authority’s actions, which was dismissed, reinforcing the claimant’s position.

The judgement considers several legal principles and past precedents. Pertinent among these are:

  1. The public right of navigation under the Thames Conservancy Act 1932, which permits mooring for reasonable time periods, subject to restrictions by the Environment Agency.
  2. Local byelaws regarding mooring and the Local Government Act 1972, which empower local councils to address nuisances and enforce rules for good governance. In this case, Richmond’s 2015 Byelaws Relating to Mooring set a maximum mooring period of one hour without council consent.
  3. The distinction between a lawful exercise of navigation rights and obstruction of a navigable waterway, which could amount to a public nuisance, as elucidated in Couper and others v Albion Properties Ltd and reiterated by Arnold, J.

His Honour Judge Blair KC also draws on principles regarding the riparian rights and duties, the actions that constitute a nuisance, and the balancing of public and private interests, acknowledging that a public authority may bring action in trespass and in nuisance to protect public interests.

Outcomes

The court found, on balance of probabilities and after witness testimony, that there was insufficient evidence of significant trespass on the claimant’s land but did conclude that Trotman’s mooring of Kupe constituted a public nuisance that obstructed the riverbank. Consequently, while the evidence fell short of supporting a ruling on trespass, the claimant was entitled to an injunction to restrain public nuisance.

The final injunction issued restrains Trotman from mooring any vessel within three meters of the claimant’s riverbank unless in compliance with the established byelaws. Additionally, the request to attach a power of arrest to the injunction was denied due to lack of evidence of violence or risk of harm. Trotman’s Article 8 ECHR defense was not seriously arguable as he did not demonstrate an exceptional case.

Conclusion

The Mayor and Burgess of the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames v Alistair Trotman [2024] EWHC 9 (KB) upholds the doctrine that navigation rights do not extend to causing a public nuisance through obstruction of the riverbank. The ruling underscores the local authority’s powers and the applicability of statutory byelaws to regulate mooring practices. This judgment sends a clear message that even in the absence of direct evidence of trespass, a public nuisance can suffice as grounds for injunctive relief, reflecting the delicate balance between individual rights and the preservation of public order.

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