or is the headline “Dog bites Man” ? We received this email from a boater on the Grand Union;
already boaters on the Grand Union canal are being served patrol orders (for first offenses in at least one case) along with a copy of the press release from BW about the Paul Davies case and a letter warning that this case has set a legal precedent regarding live-aboard boaters, their observance (or not)of the cruising guidance and the options that are now open to BW in terms of punitive action in light of this case. This is aggressive and overtly threatening action. Regardless of the ins and outs of the initial issue (the continuous cruising guidance and legal powers (and questionable competency) of BW to enforce it), Paul Davies’ case cannot be used by BW to threaten people across the canal network with homelessness.
The press release is currently the subject of complaint to BW. The complainant has taken legal advice from two experts including a senior barrister who opines that the press release is wrong both factually and in law as County Court judgements do not set precedent.
The statement’s footnote to editors, reproduced in several publications, reads; ‘The decision of the Learned Judge in the case of British Waterways v Davies will be binding on lower courts (and District Judges) and persuasive on Circuit Judges throughout England and Wales’.
The true legal position is that ‘The County Court is bound by all decisions of the higher courts, but its own decisions never create precedents’.
But British Waterways chooses to ignore such irrelevant details as facts and law in order to push through its point of view.
We urge each and every boater who has received one of these notices to complain to the Waterways Ombudsman. As is pointed out in Panda’s comment below this will have to follow 2 levels of complaint to BW, a time consuming and soul-sucking experience but it needs to be done.