Wild Justice parks legal action on general licences – but the engine is still running and the car is ready to go!

On Friday, Wild Justice’s lawyers wrote to Defra and Natural England about general licences. The beginning and end of the lengthy letter are reproduced below – please read these extracts, but the summary is as follows. Because of the passage of time, and the time-limited nature of the general licences, and the apparent fact that a consultation will be issued on these matters ‘soon’, and the speed with which the legal system operates, Wild Justice does not have time to mount a sensible challenge of the legality of the general licences this time around. But we will mount such a challenge next year if any new licences issued by Defra and/or Natural England fail to address the legal points that we have made.

So if our legal challenge is a car, we haven’t scrapped it. In fact it is almost fully fuelled (the crowdfunder), the driver is sitting at the wheel and the engine is revving. We are ready to set off again at a moment’s notice.

Anyone wanting to rely on general licences in 2020 please take notice that Wild Justice will take legal action if Defra/NE do not heed our legal case. Be aware that any revocation, removal, delay of licences next year will depend on Defra’s/NE’s appropriate response to the legal points that we have made.

Dear Sir/Madam

Re: General Licence WML – GL26: To kill or take Carrion Crows to prevent serious damage to livestock including poultry and reared gamebirds

We write in response to Natural England’s (NE) letter of 5 July 2019 and the Secretary of State’s (SS) letter of 11 July 2019.

Those letters do not in any way change our view that Wild Justice would have a strong basis for a challenge to GL26 as issued by NE on 26 April 2019, on the basis explained in our letter of 4 June 2019. As for the points made in your letters, in outline only:

We’ll not reveal the detail of our legal case here. But the summary of the letter is important.

13.       Accordingly, as above, we remain of the view that Wild Justice’s claim here would be a strong one.
14.       However, we are mindful of the fact that an application for judicial review made now would be unlikely to be considered and determined by the court much before the end of 2019 and quite possibly later. Certainly, there would be little if any of the life of these particular licences left at that point. We also note that you (SS/NE) are currently reviewing all such licences with a view to fresh and different licences in 2020. If that is right, then even if the court were to agree with Wild Justice on the points in issue here, that would have little if any continuing impact when it came to the 2020 licences and beyond.
15.       On that basis, and that basis only (namely without any implication that its claim would not be strong in law) Wild Justice is proposing not to proceed with a judicial review challenge to the 26 April 2019 GL26 licence, or the others produced at the same time which rely on the same flawed approach. However, to be clear, by doing that Wild Justice is not in any way to be taken as compromising or prejudicing its ability to challenge the legality of other licences, including any licences produced following the review for 2020. Indeed, Wild Justice will scrutinise all such licences carefully and if any repeat the errors we have identified here, then Wild Justice will take all necessary legal action at that point.
16.       In the meantime, Wild Justice looks forward to the consultation process(es) which will presumably form part of that review including consultation on proposed new licences. It will enthusiastically take part in those processes. Meanwhile, we trust that, while presumably outwardly maintaining your stance on the points above for the moment, you will nonetheless take them into account within the review and when considering any further licences (in a similar way to the approach you took to Wild Justice’s previous judicial review, namely outwardly maintaining that Wild Justice was wrong, long after you had accepted privately that Wild Justice was entirely correct).
17.       To that end, our client would be willing to meet with Natural England and/or DEFRA to discuss any of the above.

Yours faithfully
Leigh Day