Regular blog readers will recall that in November 2015, SNH served two General Licence Restriction Orders on the Raeshaw Estate and Burnfoot Estate in response to alleged raptor persecution crimes (see here). This was the first time these GL restriction orders had been used since they became available on 1st January 2014.
The alleged offences on Raeshaw Estate, a grouse moor near Heriot, Scottish Borders, related to ‘the illegal placement of traps’. The alleged offences on Burnfoot Estate, a grouse moor in Stirlingshire, related to ‘the poisoning of birds of prey and illegal use of traps’. No criminal prosecutions were brought for any of these offences.
The GL restriction orders were due to run for three years, from 13th November 2015 to 12th November 2018, and would restrict the killing of certain ‘pest’ species (e.g. crows) that are usually permitted under the General Licence.
However, the restriction orders initially only lasted for six days because the estates appealed the decision (see here).
On 3rd February 2016, SNH reinstated the restriction orders after dismissing the estates’ appeals (see here).
On 7th February 2016, both estates denied any wrongdoing and indicated that they would try for a Judicial Review of SNH’s decision (see here).
It now appears that one of these estates (Raeshaw) has successfully applied for a Judicial Review, which is set to be heard on 20th May 2016. 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. Obviously, the result of the Judicial Review, whichever way it goes, will have implications for the future use of the GL restriction order.
Meanwhile, in another twist, the GL restriction order on Raeshaw Estate has once again been suspended while the Judicial Review is underway. It’s not clear to us who instigated this suspension. The Estate may have applied for a temporary suspension to enable the killing of ‘pest’ species at this crucial time of year. Or, SNH may have decided to temporarily suspend the restriction order for fear that, if the Judicial Review goes against them, they may be subject to a lawsuit by the Estate for loss of earnings.
The Burnfoot Estate does not appear to be directly involved in the Judicial Review, which makes sense because the decision from the Raeshaw judgement will be equally applicable to Burnfoot so two Judicial Reviews on the same subject would be a waste of money. So consequently, the General Licence restriction order on the Burnfoot Estate is still in place – they are not permitted to kill ‘pest’ species as they would have done under the General Licence. We know from a recent FoI that SNH has not received any applications for an individual licence that would permit individual gamekeepers to carry out ‘pest’ control on this estate.
Let’s hope the Judicial Review for Raeshaw on 20th May results in a timely decision and that we don’t have to wait for months on end for a pronouncement. We’re pretty sure that there are other potential General Licence restriction orders for other estates sitting in SNH’s ‘pending folder’ (at least there should be) but, understandably, SNH may be reluctant to begin proceedings while this Judicial Review is still underway.