Former Solicitor Defeated in Court Over Blocking Public Footpath

A dispute that led former Solicitor Sinie Garvie-McInally to block a footpath with wooden stakes covered in anti-climb paint to prevent walkers using a path near her home has ended in defeat.

Ms Garvie-McInally argued in Court that the path was “excepted land” under the Countryside Right of Way Act 2000, which restricts public access to land within 20 metres of a dwelling in order to protect a homeowner’s right to privacy.

The Countryside Right of Way Act 2000 gives the public the right to roam over land mapped as “open country” which is typically mountains, moors, and downs but there are exceptions to this in order to protect a person’s right to privacy.

However, in this instance residents from surrounding villages presented evidence to the Court showing the path had been used as a byway for centuries and the Court held that as the footpath had been used by the public since at least 1797 it was therefore a highway.  Her argument for privacy in open country was therefore not considered as relevant by the Court.

Ms Garvie-McInally had hoped to rely on a statement announced by the government many years ago which stated that it would allow landowners permanently to close footpaths which had become abandoned and lost to public use. However, unfortunately, as the relevant statutory instrument has not yet been introduced her neighbours were able to use this loophole to revive an overgrown footpath and have it declared in Court to be a pedestrian highway.

If your property or land has a public footpath or bridleway passing through it then you should familiarise yourself with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 as this is the law that stipulates your rights and responsibilities as a landowner with a public right of way. The law says that if you wish to alter the public right of way you need to undertake a legal process and seek a Diversion Order or an Extinguishment Order from your local authority.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act goes on to state that it is an offence to obstruct a bridleway or footpath, and this offence can result in a fine of up to £1000. On top of this, you can also be charged up to £5000 for failing to comply with a court order, and any further non-compliance can result in a fine of £250 per day.

As Ms Garvie-McInally has experienced, it is uncommon for Courts to have much sympathy for private landowners who obstruct public footpaths or bridleways, and it is not recommended that you do this without the Diversion Order or Extinguishment Order first.

It goes without saying that if you have a public right of way on your land, you must, by law, ensure that there are no obstructions – whether intended or not. This includes ensuring that undergrowth, plants, and hedges are cut back to enable the public to pass. You must also ensure that stiles or gates are kept properly, safe, and easy to use.

With a wealth of experience in advising on public footpaths and bridleways and in handling disputes over rights of way, Thursfields has an unrivalled level of expertise regarding the intricacies involved in the process. We will work closely with you to establish your goals and put together a proactive and bespoke solution with the sole purpose of achieving your objectives.

As a full-service law firm, we can draw upon a multitude of departments to provide a holistic service you can trust. Contact us today to learn more about how our team can assist you. If you require assistance with Residential Property in the Agriculture sector, reach out to our skilled solicitors at 0345 20 73 728 or email us at

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