Earlier this week we blogged about how Scottish Natural Heritage had finally issued General Licence restriction orders on two sporting estates in response to raptor persecution crimes that had reportedly occurred on those properties. The two estates are Raeshaw (a grouse moor near Heriot in the Scottish Borders) and Burnfoot (a grouse moor in Stirlingshire) – see here for our earlier blog on this and for an explanation about how these restriction orders work.
This was an important decision by SNH as it was the first time they had imposed the sanction since it became available for use on 1st January 2014. As such, this is a bit of a test case.
We had speculated about whether the estates would try for a Judicial Review, on the grounds that SNH had acted unfairly in applying these sanctions. Today, an article by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald confirms that they are indeed going to try for a Judicial Review (see here).
A Judicial Review is not about whether the principle of applying a General Licence restriction order is fair or unfair per se, but is more about the process underlying SNH’s decision. Did SNH act lawfully and follow the right procedures when it made the decision to apply GL restriction orders to these two estates? That’s what the court will have to decide, assuming that the estates’ case gets past the preliminary stage of Judicial Review which involves seeking permission from a Court of Session judge to proceed to a full review.
Assuming it does reach full Judicial Review, the court’s decision will be an important one that will affect whether SNH may apply the same administrative procedure (see here) when considering applying GL restriction orders on other estates where raptor persecution crimes have been uncovered. We wonder whether SNH will delay implementing any more GL restriction orders on other estates while this Judicial Review process is underway? We’ll have to wait and see.
Many commentators on our earlier blog (here) suggested that the GL restriction order wasn’t worth the paper it was written on in terms of the (in)effect it would have on the management practices of these two estates. So it’s interesting to us that the Raeshaw and Burnfoot Estates have decided to go ahead and apply for a Judicial Review, because this type of court action is not a cheap option. To us, this indicates that the GL restriction order is seen as a significant blow by these estates, otherwise why would they bother going to the expense of taking court action?
Also of note in Rob’s article is confirmation of the evidence SNH used in its decision to apply the GL restrictions. At Burnfoot Estate ‘there had been a poisoned red kite, a poisoned peregrine, and a red kite found injured in an illegal trap; the kite had to be subsequently euthanised’. We’ve blogged about these offences here.
At Raeshaw Estate ‘illegal traps had been set’. We’ve previously speculated about whether the illegal traps reported here were found on the Raeshaw and Corsehope Estates. This has not been confirmed.
Both estates have denied any wrongdoing. According to David McKie, the defence agent acting for both estates, “Responsible game management practices are at the heart of what Raeshaw and its employees do” and “Burnfoot consider the decision of SNH to be unjustified and unfair“.
SNH said the police evidence was “strong” and “While it is very clear that offences have been committed, as is often the case with these types of crime, it hasn’t been possible to gather the evidence to identify the person responsible“.
We’ll be following this case with interest.