I shall miss the Rights of Way Law Review, an excellent publication which arrived every month from the Granary at Charlcutt in Wiltshire. After nearly 25 years, Louise Hastings and her team have decided that they must call it a day.
But what a contribution the law review has made. Every month we received two carefully-argued articles. Initially they were mostly about public-path law and practice, but then the subject matter was extended to cover other rights of access, planning, private rights over land, conservation and recreation, and commons and greens. Now there are 15 sections in all, each on different coloured paper and arranged for filing in a loose-leaf binder. I have four such binders on my shelves. The articles were written by leading lawyers, practitioners and historians, and were of a consistently high standard.
When the review started, back in January 1990, the world of paths and access was very different. As the editors, Louise Hastings and Christopher Jessel, explain in a valedictory message, there were many reasons for embarking on the project. The recent Countryside Commission reports showed that public use of the countryside was increasing; satisfaction of this need grew more and more unlikely while official and unofficial closure of rights of way was reducing the mileage of unmetalled highways; many owners and occupiers perceived public paths as a threat to their privacy and livelihoods, and despite inevitable conflicts and confrontation, there was no systematic reporting, nor legal analysis and commentary, of rights-of-way case law.
The RWLR fulfilled all these needs.
Whence and whither?
In an epilogue, Unde et quo? barrister Philip Petchey gives a masterly review of significant case-law from 1949 to the present, noting that ‘We now live in a very different world to that which existed in 19545: words like “stakeholders”, “outsourcing”, “incentivising” and “deregulation” were unknown then.’
Indeed so, and we were the better for it.
Philip observes that in those days public bodies were actively involved in improving our world, now it’s all about private initiative. He concludes: ‘In the brave new world in which we live, the Rights of Way Law Review will be sadly missed. At least we shall continue to have recourse to the existing volumes even if there are to be no new ones. Hugely informative, they contain both profound learning and acute commentary. I hope that this valedictory article will be read as a tribute to their many authors and those who have been responsible for the production of the review over the years.’
I wholeheartedly agree.