Taking private action for nuisance problems without the involvement of the Council
The normal means of resolving nuisance problems is to complain to the Council, which will investigate and take action if warranted. However, there is an alternative course of legal action which need not entail the appointment of expensive legal representatives. It is open to any person to take independent action by complaining directly to the Magistrates' Court under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This provision does not cover all types of nuisance but will cover many common noise, odour, dust and smoke nuisance problems. Should you consider using this procedure then officers from the Environmental Protection Team would be happy to discuss the matter with you. The procedure, which is outlined below, is intended to be fairly simple. However, it is strongly advisable that you first obtain some independent legal advice.
Before considering the use of this procedure you are strongly advised to try to resolve the problem by other appropriate means, in particular by speaking to your neighbour and/or complaining to the Council first. In addition, you should consider that there are two sides to every story. The person who you complain about may be able to produce counter-arguments in their defence which are just as real to them as your grievances are to you.
Prior to approaching the court, it would be best to write to the person responsible for the problem stating that, unless the problem stops within a specified timescale, you will complain to the Magistrates' Court. Keep a copy of all correspondence and any notes and/or diary you have completed about the nature and extent of the problem because these may be used as evidence in court.
If the problem persists then contact the Justices' Clerk's Office at your local Magistrates' Court explaining that you wish to make a complaint under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The Clerk of the Court should be able to advise you further. You must give at least three days notice of your intention to complain to the Magistrates' Court to the person responsible for the problem. The notice must provide details of the complaint, so that the nature of the problem is clear, and should be hand delivered or sent by recorded post.
You will have to prove to the magistrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that the problem being complained about amounts to a nuisance. The evidence of other witnesses may strengthen your case. A date for the hearing will be set and the person about whom you are complaining (the defendant) will be summoned to Court. You will be required to explain the problem, produce evidence of the extent of the problem and answer questions. The defendant will have the opportunity to present his/her own evidence and cross-examine you and your own witnesses. If you are complaining about business premises then that business may have a defence if they can prove that they are using "best practicable means" to prevent, or reduce the effects of, the problem.
If you are successful at proving your case then the Court will make an order requiring the nuisance to stop and might also impose a fine. If you fail to prove your case then you may have to pay some of the defendant's costs associated with defending the action.
There are Magistrates' Courts are at Southampton and Basingstoke, although, depending on where you live you may be directed to a different court. For contact details and a map showing where to find each court please see the Court Service website
Further information and advice
Additional information in respect of certain specific types of nuisance problem are also provided on this website. Please follow the links to the side of the page regarding:
- Noise Nuisance
- Bonfire Smoke
- Light Pollution
For further information or advice, please contact:
The Environmental Protection Team
Tel. 01264 368000