Evicted farmers hope for more clarity after ruling for substantial compensation after losing farms
TENANT FARMERS in Scotland who have faced eviction from their land have won a partial victory in a long and ongoing legal battle for compensation.
A ruling at the Court of Session in Edinburgh this week (21 March) instructed that the state should pay money to farmers who have been evicted from their farms by landlords, although the size of payments was not specified.
Among the farmers pursuing was Andrew Stoddart, aged 54 and a fifth generation farmer, who was one of a group of seven tenant farmers arguing that they were the victims of repeated legislative errors made by successive Scottish ministers over a decade.
Tenants farmers, who work land owned by landowners or trusts but do not own the farms themselves have been evicted due to landlords using a Supreme Court ruling to claim back land holdings leading to many becoming landless and cashless.
“My kids keep asking when they are going to get another farm, but it looks like it’s not going to happen. It’s incredibly complex. I don’t know how it’s all going to work out.” Andrew Stoddart
Andrew Stoddart who was evicted from a 900-acre property near Haddington, East Lothian said: “It looks like it’s going to drag on and on. It would be different if it was a clear-cut position but it appears to be anything but that. My kids keep asking when they are going to get another farm, but it looks like it’s not going to happen. It’s incredibly complex. I don’t know how it’s all going to work out.”
Stoddart who lives in Dunbar with his wife and three daughters had worked the land at Colstoun Mains for over 20 years when he found himself evicted in November 2015. Due to the financial pressures and obligations of the move he had to sell his tractors, harvesters and forklift trucks and over 500 sheep and ponies. Other farmers from the Isle of Arran, Methven, Mauchline, Newton Stewart and Selkirk joined Stoddart in his legal action against the Scottish Government.
The fight to save Stoddart’s Coulston Mains farm in Haddington became part of the battle for land reform and tenant farmers’ rights. The movement held demonstrations at the Scottish Parliament, calling for the Scottish Government to intervene on Stoddart’s behalf, and the campaign attracted UK wide media attention.
Lord Clark added in his judgement: “The state should compensate individuals for loss directly arising from reasonable reliance upon defective legislation passed by it, which was then remedied by further legislation which interfered with the individuals’ rights.
“The state should compensate individuals for loss directly arising from reasonable reliance upon defective legislation passed by it, which was then remedied by further legislation which interfered with the individuals’ rights.” Lord Clark
“It seems to me that all that the court can reasonably do is to establish the principles upon which the scheme of compensation should have been based but to leave for further procedure the question of whether, applying those principles, the claims . . . give rise to compensable loss.”
Presiding over the case Judge, Lord Clark said he could not make a judgement on individual cases, as “specific losses . . . would of course require to be established” and lawyers close to the case have said that the 60 plus page ruling would need hours of analysis before establishing whether claimants and their families could expect substantial redress.
The ruling has its origins in a series of land reform laws passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2003 created to secure the tenancies of farmers which in 2013 was ruled to breach the rights of landlords by the Supreme Court.
In 2014, Holyrood passed a remedial order which led to landlords such as Andrew Stoddart’s deciding to take back his farm and deny tenancy.
“Tenant farmers and their families are facing eviction through no fault of their own.” Andy Wightman
Andy Wightman MSP and land reform spokesperson for the Scottish Greens urged the Scottish Government to respond swiftly to the ruling.
He said: “Mediation and compensation promised by the Scottish Government has not been forthcoming and this court ruling will increase the pressure on ministers to act. It also shows I was right to press ministers to bring forward emergency legislation.
“Tenant farmers and their families are facing eviction through no fault of their own. Businesses and livelihoods are about to be lost. Ministers must respond quickly, and we must see mediation to enable farmers and landlords to reach settlements.”
The compensation due will obviously be assessed on a case by case basis and should reflect specific losses sustained by the tenants combined with a sum to compensate for the stress and heartache caused.
Picture courtesy of Channel 4
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