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What it was like to act on a bust-up between naturists that reached the Court of Appeal

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Hardwicke barrister Andy Creer discusses acting for Hertfordshire naturist village Spielplatz Estate in a tenancy dispute with a member couple

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Legal Cheek Careers: The Spielplatz Estate naturist colony, situated a few miles from St Albans, seems to be a great option for people yearning for a simpler life unburdened by clothing. But, as you have discovered, the living arrangements of its residents — some of whom permanently occupy the 64 plots on the leafy 12-acre site — are legally pretty complex…

Andy Creer: Yes. Our case has seen us acting for the Spielplatz Estate against two of its residents, Mr and Mrs Pearson, after they were served with a notice to quit their plot following allegations of anti-social behaviour.

The tenancy dispute that followed was unusual because of the unconventional set-up of the Spielplatz Estate, where outgoing tenants would follow a convention of selling whatever was on their plot to incoming tenants. Both the landlord and tenant believed that the tenants owned the structure on the plots, and, indeed, the Pearsons had made substantial improvements to theirs, turning it from a wooden chalet into a larger, block-clad bungalow without reference to the estate.

At law, what is annexed to the land becomes part of the land; the subjective intentions of the parties are not relevant to the ownership.

In the end it boiled down to whether the chalet had been “let as a dwelling”, and, therefore, whether the Pearsons had an assured tenancy.

The appeal was last Thursday, with the Court of Appeal set to hand down judgment at the end of this month.

Legal Cheek Careers: What was the most memorable part of the case?

Creer: The tenancy agreement stands out because, atypically for tenancy agreements, it included sections on dress code and sunbathing. While it stated that clothing was permitted during inclement weather, swimwear was banned.

Legal Cheek Careers: How did you come to be involved?

Creer: I was initially instructed to defend a summary judgment application in early 2014, and thereafter did a two -day trial in April last year.

After we lost at trial we felt that there were potential grounds for appeal. And my instructing solicitor, Iain Davies, of the law firm Gateley PLC, and I got permission on the papers. I then started working with my chambers colleague, John de Waal QC, on the appeal — which, following an adjournment, was heard last week.

Legal Cheek Careers: What’s it like appearing in the Court of Appeal?

Creer: Appellate advocacy is very different to trial work. In a trial you have a known structure — opening, each party’s evidence, then closing submissions — whereas in the Court of Appeal you are subject to more intervention and fluidity.

The judges may only be interested in one or two of the issues in your skeleton argument. So, rather than start at the beginning, they may jump in at question 14 — meaning that a lot more thinking on your feet is required.

While I have appeared in the Court of Appeal a few times, most of my appellate work to date has involved the appeal of either a case management issue or the final decision of a district judge — meaning it has been in front of a single judge, either circuit or High Court. But in the Court of Appeal there are three judges, and you are conscious that there are these very intelligent minds scrutinising your case. We had Lord Justice Laws, Lord Justice Burnett and Sir Colin Ryman.

As John de Waal said of Court of Appeal advocacy generally, it sometimes feels like two are reloading while the other is shooting at you.

Legal Cheek Careers: Were there any light-hearted moments, given the subject matter?

Creer: As a barrister, irrespective of the subject matter, you have to remember that the issues you are dealing with are serious to the individuals involved. But there was the odd moment. For example, before the first instance trial it was enquired whether the judge wished to participate in a site visit. She politely declined.

And during a break in the trial, the clients suggested that I attempt a version of buzzword bingo in submissions. I believe subtle quips about “bare facts”, “stark reality” and “it was revealed in cross examination” were put forward.

Legal Cheek Careers: How much preparation did you do before the appeal?

Creer: Two full days. Our skeleton argument only ran to around 15 condensed pages, as you have to be quite succinct in the Court of Appeal, but there were 15 authorities cited.

Legal Cheek Careers: How did you end up becoming a land law barrister?

Creer: My pupil master specialised in land law and I found that it was an area I enjoyed. Looking at it historically, property and land is such an important concept in the English psyche. And as the Spielplatz Estate case illustrates, the law surrounding it cuts across so many different areas of life.

Legal Cheek Careers: Were you one of those people who liked land law at uni?

Creer: I’m afraid so. I think grasping the difference between legal and equitable interests fairly early on during the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) helped. But then I have always been quite a legal person, and was often sought out in my previous career as a company director at a manufacturing company to read the contract or the bits of legislation with which we were sometimes confronted.

Legal Cheek Careers: What’s your advice to budding barristers out there?

Creer: Find a way to develop the confidence to be yourself. My journey to the Bar — to which I was called in 2005 — was a roundabout one. I was told by my careers adviser at my small comprehensive school that I couldn’t study law because I was doing science A-levels, which was of course wrong. Then, after incurring a serious head injury during sixth form I didn’t get the grades I had been predicted. But after studying ergonomics and business at Aston University I went on to have a successful career in industry before becoming a barrister. The statistics can be discouraging, but you do not need to have been to Oxbridge to join a top 30 chambers.

Andy Creer is a barrister at Hardwicke in Lincoln’s Inn

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