201605.06

What Is a ‘Vessel’? High Court Ponders

The legal definition of commonplace English words can often provide exercise for the best judicial brains. That was certainly so in one case in which the High Court had to decide whether a floating home moored in a marina was a ‘vessel’ that was required to be registered for use on inland waterways.

The case concerned a home which was built on a raft made of plastic and concrete. It was secured to the marina’s bed by metal poles at each corner, had no keel or ballast, and would require two working boats to move it. It was connected to mains electricity, sewage and water and was subject to council tax.

The Environment Agency (EA) argued that it was nevertheless a ‘vessel’ which had to be registered under the Environment Agency (Inland Waterways) Order 2010. Its owner was prosecuted for refusing to pay the £400 annual registration fee but was acquitted on the basis that registration was not required.

In dismissing the EA’s appeal against that decision, the Court found that, although it could be described as a ‘home on water’, it was not designed to be propelled or moved across water and was, thus, not a vessel.

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