On a proper construction of the legislation, the magistrates' court had concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Swainmote to hear summons' alleging breaches of the Byelaws of the New Forest.Appeal by way of case stated against the decision of Southampton Magistrates' Court (S) on 19 March 2003 that it did not have jurisdiction to hear summons' alleging breaches by the respondents (R) of the Byelaws of the appellant (V) by allowing horses and/or cattle to be depastured without payment of marking fees. Under s.25 New Forest Act 1877, V had power to make Byelaws, which, by the New Forest Act 1949, were effective if confirmed by the Minister of Agriculture. The New Forest Acts provided for V to hold its own court, the Court of Swainmote, which had the same power and jurisdiction as if it were a court consisting of two or more justices of the peace. By s.25(4) of the 1877 Act, fines for breach of the Byelaws were "to be recovered summarily". V alleged breaches of the Byelaws and the matter came before S. S held that on a proper construction of the New Forest Acts it had no power to hear the summons' as the Court of Swainmote had exclusive jurisdiction. Further, the use of the word "summarily" in s.25(4) of the 1877 Act did not indicate that the magistrates' courts had jurisdiction. Rather, as in s.29 of the 1877 Act, the word was used in the dictionary definition sense of "things being done by a short method without unnecessary formality or delay". On appeal V argued that: (i) section 29 of the 1877 Act was concerned with procedures to rectify an alleged invalid election of a verderer and was a provision that was not criminal in nature but related to the procedure of the High Court in dealing with a form of election petition; (ii) by contrast s.25(4) of the 1877 Act was a criminal provision that was subject to s.5 and Sch.1 Interpretation Act 1978 such that breach of the Byelaws fell within the definition of a "summary offence" attracting the jurisdiction of the magistrates' court; (iii) under s.2(1) Magistrates Court Act 1980 a magistrates court had "jurisdiction to try all summary offences"; (iv) the control of animals in the New Forest was a matter of general public interest such that the magistrates' court should have a concurrent jurisdiction; and (v) in all those circumstances, whilst the Court of Swainmote had jurisdiction to hear the summons', so too did S.HELD: (1) For the reasons set out in V's submissions the summary recovery of fines had to be construed by reference to the 1978 Act. S had been wrong to construe s.25(4) of the 1877 Act by reference to s.29 of the same. (2) Section 2(1) of the 1980 Act was of high significance in determining the issue of jurisdiction but that provision may not have been sufficiently addressed in argument before S. (3) Moreover, the control of animals was a matter of general public interest as the amenities offered by the New Forest were affected by the way in which it was maintained. (4) In those circumstances, the magistrates' court had concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Swainmote. (5) It was to be noted that whilst the compatibility of the operation of the Court of Swainmote with the European Convention on Human Rights did not require determination in the instant proceedings, having regard to the characteristics and composition of that court it was highly unlikely that it was a body capable of withstanding criticism with regard to the fair trial provisions of Art.6 of the Convention.Appeal allowed.

[2003] EWHC 3253 (Admin)

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