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Defra Publishes Legal Opinion on Canoeists' "unconvincing" Claims of Universal Access

29.05.14

Darley Dale - canoeists

After long-running correspondence and a formal complaint from Fish Legal, Defra has now published its legal opinion confirming that there is no general Public Right of Navigation (PRN) on non-tidal rivers or other inland waters in England and Wales.

Commenting on a thesis published by Rev Dr Caffyn - upheld by canoeists as establishing a universal right to canoe wherever and whenever they like - Defra Legal said:
"The document appears to be a thesis for a Masters degree written by someone who admits to having no legal training. He has published the thesis himself. The basic point which the writer seems to wish to achieve is to open up the rivers for canoeists at the expense of anglers".

"The generally held legal view is that there is a general absence of public right of navigation on non-tidal waters or inland lakes. The public right of navigation that exists on tidal waters does not apply. The soil of rivers is vested not in the Crown, but in the riparian owners and in the case of inland lakes, in the adjoining proprietors. This is established in a series of common law cases..."

"The Reverend Caffyn attempts to argue against these and against Halsbury's Laws of England but without giving any real or convincing reason why he considers them to be incorrect."

Fish Legal referred Defra to a 2013 BBC article with comments from Jonathan Karas QC who said:

"The suggestion that there are general public rights of navigation dating from medieval times is a misunderstanding. Old statutes do not grant general navigational rights. Magna Carta refers to removing dams and weirs but this was concerned with limiting the power of the King not confirming a right of navigation."

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