Wild Justice ‘would not have been successful’, Judge says

Shooting organisations have reacted positively to the publication of court papers that suggest Wild Justice’s Judicial Review on releasing gamebirds near to designated sites would not have been successful if heard.

As interested parties, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Countryside Alliance, Game Farmers’ Association and National Gamekeepers Organisation worked together to ensure Wild Justice were unsuccessful in their request to have a stop notice placed on all gamebird releases up to 5km away from designated sites such as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

After dismissing Wild Justice’s subsequent attempt to claim £35,000 costs for the case it instigated, the judge in the matter was critical of the group’s behaviour in the latter stages of the legal process.

Justice Holgate criticised Wild Justice for their “unacceptable” failure to deal with the content of a witness statement submitted by Defra in August which discussed the findings of their 18-month evidence-gathering review of gamebird releasing and outlined subsequent steps that would be taken by Defra and Natural England (NE).

Justice Holgate also cast doubt on the validity of the case brought by Wild Justice, who were claimants (C) against Defra and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He added: “It does not appear to me from the material before me (which includes the results of the review) that C would have been successful on the issue.”

And in direct relation to Wild Justice’s application to receive costs, Justice Holgate said: “Plainly, it cannot be said that C has been wholly or even substantially successful in relation to its claim as originally pleaded.

“I am inclined to the view that it would not have been successful… …I am left with the firm impression that the application for costs did not grapple with the real issues from the outset and should not have been made.”

A spokesperson for the shooting organisations said: “The costs order by Justice Holgate has vindicated our hard work and the original decision by the organisations to fight Wild Justice to ensure that we could become involved in the legal hearings.

“As interested parties, we were able to submit witness statements and support Defra to ensure that shooting’s voice was heard.

“It was reassuring to see the Judge set out the shortcomings of Wild Justice’s case in his rejection of their application for costs.”

“As a group of organisations, we now move on to focus on the Government’s proposed interim licensing scheme for gamebird release in and near to certain protected sites. We are determined that the legitimate game management interests of our members are safeguarded from threats, wherever they come from.”