Case Brief for Ravenscroft v Canal and River Trust
Name of parties: Mr Leigh Ravenscroft and Canal and River Trust
Citation: 2017 EWHC 1874
Court: High Court of Justice Chancery Division
Judges: Asplin J
Mr Ravenscroft, (the claimant) and owner of a boat and the Canal & River Trust (The
”CRT”). The CRT (the defendant) removed Ravenscroft’s boat from the River Trent
and put it in storage. It was returned months later on payment of £8,176. Ravenscroft
is accusing the CRT of having no power to remove his boat as they moored it in an
illegal part of the river, not the main navigable channel. Ravenscroft believes that the
powers the CRT has to seize it did not apply, making the seizure of the vessel
unlawful, given it was moored illegally. He believes the CRT acted out of spite, trying
to recover revenue through licence fees and storage and removal costs.
1. How far does the interpretation of the ‘main navigable channel’ extend to
within section 4 of the British Waterways Act 1971.
2. If a removal of a boat can be a breach of Article 1 of the First Protocol within
the Human Rights Act 1998.
3. Whether the removal of the boat and demanded debt is lawful under section 8
of the British Waterways Act 1983 given the removal was used for unlawful
means, such as distress and whether this was created.
1. The definition of the main navigable channel can extend to the width of the bank,
so bank to bank of the waterway.
2. A removal of a boat cannot violate Article 1 of the Protocol 1 within the Human
Rights Act 1998
3. No distress is created, as the organisation’s aims were not unlawful, the
organisation is entitled to recover the storage and removal charges experienced in the
use of its powers under Section 8 of the 1983 Act.
1.The definition is consistent with the British Waterways Act 1971 and the statute’s
aim, being to regulate the waterways, the statute refers to regulating the width of
channels, not the depth.
2. A removal of a boat cannot violate Article 1, of the Protocol 1 within the Human
Rights Act 1998 if the interference is done in public interest and keeping the
waterways clear would benefit and please the whole community.
3. No distress is created, as this was not the Trust’s aim, the seizure was pursued to
keep the waterway safe and clear and since the boat lacked a certificate making others
at risk. So neither s.1 nor s.4 of the Statute of Marlborough are relevant, as no distress
was created given the possession was not to gain revenue. Organisations are entitled
to recover the storage and removal charges experienced in the use of its powers under
Section 8 of the 1983 Act.
Claims were dismissed
Statutory interpretation is necessary as ‘we live in a world in which all language is
indeterminate and interpreters cannot help but confront language through a lens
distorted by personal ideology’. The interpretation of a statute needs to be found and 1
applied in a meaningful way to uphold justice, yet ‘even the most precisely crafted
statute cannot …resolve all the disputes that arise under the act’. So facilitating 2
approaches can help fill gaps, given ‘courts cannot fill gaps; they cannot … attempt
themselves to supply the answer’,3
These useful approaches all lead to different judgments. Judge Asplin chooses the
purposive approach, which aims to ‘give effect to the purpose of legislation’. The 4
approach readily embraces ‘much extraneous material’, including the use of aids to 5
construction and precedent, which help to decrypt legislation.
Asplin has to judge 3 claims in this case: Mr Ravenscroft, (the claimant) and owner of
a boat and the Canal & River Trust (The CRT). The CRT (the defendant) removed
Ravenscroft’s boat from the River Trent and put it in storage and returned it months
later. Judge Asplin dismissed Ravenscroft’s claims and within this essay, her
judgment and the methods used to reach this judgment will be assessed, the
substantial impact of the purposive approach, the slight reference to aids to
construction and precedent will also be influential factors. This essay will discuss and
evaluate Asplin J’s judgment, within the first issue, Asplin has to address how far the
meaning of the ‘main navigable channel’ extends to within the British Waterways 6
1 Randal N M Graham ‘What judges want: judicial self-interest and statutory interpretation’
2009 30 Statute Law Review 3.
2 Frank B Cross ‘The Theory and Practice of Statutory Interpretation’ (SUP 2009) .
3 Royal College of Nursing of the UK v Dept. Health & Social Security 1981 1 All ER 545
(HL) (Lord Wilberforce).
4 Pepper v Hart 1992 3 WLR 1032 (HL) (Lord Griffiths).
6 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft and Canal and River Trust 2017 EWHC 1874.
7 British Waterways Act 1971 s.4.
Asplin admits ‘Hansard and Select Committee Minutes’, both extrinsic aids, to be 8
inadmissible, by rejecting these sources and only using intrinsic aids, she limits her
ability to find the statute’s construction since ‘its legislative context and policy
context are shown by any admissible material, such as … Hansard’. Asplin 9
perceives the criteria to use Hansard is not met; ‘reference to Parliamentary materials
as an aid to construction is permissible’, ‘where legislation is ambiguous’. ?This 10 11
criteria allows for inadmissible materials to become admissible, Asplin disagrees
since the 1971 Act, does not ‘lead to absurdity’ so she ignores the aids. 12
There is difference to her decision since the aids should have been used, given
ambiguity is present in the 1971 Act. The Act refers to boats cruising on ‘the main
navigable channel of each of the inland waterways’ being vague, it continues in 13
Schedule 1; ‘the Trent Navigation is from the tail of Meadow Lane Lock, Nottingham
to Gainsborough Bridge’. The statutes are not entirely ambiguous but disjointed as 14
the pieces of information are within a different section of the Act. Asplin’s judgment
is progressively invalid, the description of the channel was extended, including: ‘The
Trent Navigation from Shardlow … by way of the Beeston Canal…’ The Act would 15
not have been revised if there was no need to, so the 1971 Act lacks clarity, thus the
Asplin’s judgment is marginally distorted.
Yet it is not utterly awry, she follows the purposive approach by putting herself ‘in
the shoes of the draftsman’. She assumes the aim is ‘to regulate the use of 16
waterways and to raise revenue’, so she dismisses the claimant’s interpretation since 17
it is incompatible with the aim, a sound decision and use of the approach. Her choice
9 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n 6).
10 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n 6) 9.
11 Pepper v Hart (n 5) 640 (Lord Browne-Wilkinson).
12 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n
13 The British Waterways Act 1971 s4(1).
15 The British Waterways Act 1974 s36(2).
16 Maunsell v Olins 1975 AC 373 (HL) (Lord Simon).
17 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n
of the purposive method is justified by Maunsell v Olins , where the approach was 18
embraced to aid the clarification of a statute, very alike Asplin’s task.
Extrinsic aids and precedent have a slight impact on the judgment, she refers to the
Fraenkel Committee Report 1973, an extrinsic aid, she dismisses it as it post-dates the
1971 Act so cannot be persuasive, the purposive approach involves finding
Parliament’s present-day aim and the report would not shed light on Parliament’s
objective since it succeeds 1971. She shadows Arden LJ’s approach in 9 Cornwall ,
which enthuses the purposive approach, which took place in the Court of Appeal, a
superior court to the High Court of this case, so is binding, yet she wisely does not use
the case as precedent as it post-dates the Act, rendering the case non-binding, yet, it is
used as an indicator to use the purposive approach to find the statutory interpretation.
Asplin’s judgment is partially flawed given her ignorance to the ambiguity within the
1971 Act, her actions are impactful in the judgment since extrinsic aids highlight the
purpose of statutes and given the majority of them derive from parliamentary sources
or academics, both in possession of valuable information, they are valuable sources.
To set them aside would make decoding a statute difficult and lead to a restricted
judgment since not all possible sources have been confronted, interpretation has not
been fully implemented, hence a misinterpretation of the statute’s meaning is fairly
likely, consequently hindering justice. The likelihood of this reduces as her approach
since precedent, interpretation and extrinsic aids is fairly thorough, causing her
judgment to be secured by the use of relevant sources. Asplin concludes with
rationalised confidence that the ‘main navigable channel’ refers to the width of the 20
waterway, so simply ‘bank to bank’.21
The second issue raised concerns the removal of the boat and how that breached the
Human Rights Act 1998. Asplin continues to use the purposive approach to decrypt
18 Maunsell (n 16).
19 9 Cornwall Crescent London Ltd v Mayor & Burgesses of the Royal Borough of Kensington
& Chelsea 2005 EWCA Civ 324
20 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n
21 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n
the legislation, questioning whether ‘the objective of section 8 is sufficiently
important to justify the limitation upon Mr Ravenscroft’s property rights’.22
She concludes with good reason that the aim of section 8 is to keep the ‘waterways
safe and accessible’ asserting that the removal was to keep unlawful boats out of the 23
waterway. Her decision could be valid, although assessing the actions and motives of
the Trust is crucial, Asplin referred to the Bank Mellat case, where a proportionality
test is suggested which assesses the balance between ‘the rights of the individual and
the interests of the community’. Asplin uses the test to confirm that the Trust acted 24
proportionately regarding the removal of the boat, as it was their aim was to keep the
waterways maintained which coincides with the criteria in the test; the ‘objective is
sufficiently important’ . The next criteria is fulfilled as the objective links to the case, 25
as the aim was to ‘benefit of the whole community’. She rationally concluded that 26
their actions were lawful since ‘a removal of a boat can be lawful when ‘in the public
interest”, which the Trust considered resulting in a compelling conclusion. 27
Aids to construction were facilitated during the weighing the Trust’s behaviour, the
Bank Mellat case was used as an extrinsic aid since she followed a test suggested
from the case, this guided Asplin to come to her conclusion, the case was impactful
since the test led to the judgment. Asplin’s use of the aid was reasonable she
thoroughly applied the requirements of the test to the case, gauging well to see if the
Trust acted justly, which led to the wholesome judgment of the statute’s meaning.
However little precedent was used to contribute to the judgment, despite this normally
having a role in the purposive approach, the issue itself was not that elaborate, so did
not need further aid. The Bank Mellat case had several cases developed from it that
helped construct the judgment, these almost act as precedent, so despite the role of
precedent being small concerning the second issue, no further precedent was needed
to reach the judgment as it had already been found through previous sources. Asplin
22 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n
24 Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury 2013 UKSC 38, 2014 AC 700 (Lord Sumption).
26 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n 6) 30.
27Human Rights Act 1998 art.1.
consulted intrinsic aids often, citing legislation found within the 1983 Act, this
enabled the judgment to be exceedingly relevant as most of the conclusion was
weighed upon the proportionality test which directly questioned the 1983 Act, so
intrinsic aids were also constructive on the judgment. Largely, the decisions made
cannot be faulted, the construction she settles for fits section 8 and she obtains the
meaning of the legislation through the intensive use of the purposive method and
other aids, causing an equitable judgment, due to her in-depth manner to statutory
The last claim involves whether the removal of the boat and demanded debt is lawful
under section 8 of the British Waterways Act 1983 given the removal was used for
unlawful means, such as distress. Asplin reiterates the purposive and literal approach
to decode the issue, leading to a fairly reasonable resolution.
Asplin affirmed in her judgment above, that section 8’s motive is the ‘orderly
management of the waterways and.. safety’ , not ‘the recovery of arrears of licence 28
fees’. This application of the purposive approach is helpful since it eliminates the 29
argument that the removal of the boat was unlawful given the powers they used did
not concern the raising of revenue. The role of the interpretation is major since Asplin
bases the majority of her judgment on the concoction shes uses, but the impact is not
al firmly positive, as Asplin misses details from sources.
Plentiful resources were used skillfully, most were not exactly respectable sources;
the CRT website, general legal knowledge and facts of the case, although not quite
reliable, they are relevant. Asplin addressed other external materials to reach her
judgment that the removal of the boat had lawful grounds. She notes that if revenue
through licence fees was their goal, the Trust would have set up civil proceedings
already as these are needed to recover a debt, a clever conclusion. Asplin recalls the
case facts drawing on how none of the notices made any reference to the arrear of
fees, evidently showing this is not the Trust’s aim. She further supports her argument
28 Mr Leigh Ravenscroft (n 6) 32.
with legal knowledge, that the Trust has the rights to recover storage and removal
charges, which is indeed correct; ‘all expenses incurred by the board in the removal,
storage … may be recovered ..from the owner’. Asplin’s methodical use of sources 30
and careful application of law guides her to a fair judgment.
Asplin states ‘no loss was suffered’, as distress did not occur given the Trust did not 31
aim for the fees to cause distress, she is quick to dismiss the Statute of Marlborough,
she uses the literal rule, so ordinary meaning of the word ‘distress’ to recognise that
none was created, as it was not done so purposefully. The statute is from the 13th
century and ‘distress’ has potentially widened since due to societal change, this could
explain her dismissal of the other potential loss. Within Ravenscroft’s witness
statement he reveals he had agreed to sell the boat for £28,000 and due to the removal
of the boat ‘lost an agreed sale’. Asplin did not count this is as distress or address 32
this, likely as the Trust would not have known of the sale, so could not deliberately
impose distress. Otherwise, this could have led to an altered judgment given the
removal directly affected Ravenscroft’s finances, possibly entitling him to
She concludes that Ravenscroft’s claims carry little weight and will be dismissed.
Overall, the use of the purposive approach has a prevailing influence in interpreting
statutes, after finding the aim of a statute the meaning tends to follow shortly, as it
directs her to the construction, rendering its impact substantial. The role of aids and
particularly precedent is sidelined due to the approach’s immense role, creating an
absence of alternative resources. Yet aids help to build upon the judgment, fleshing
out and making it more cohesive, the concoction of the purposive approach and the
aids create a powerful and mostly accurate statutory interpretation mechanism. At
times Asplin seems to have considerable power when judging, especially given a
judge’s role is to interpret the law and that of the legislators is to apply it, there seems
an unfitting swap of roles.