Another high-profile victory for Gordons’ expert as gamekeeper receives permission to progress judicial review claim

Tuesday 6th January 2015

Yorkshire law firm Gordons has won a major victory in a landmark court case with potentially massive implications for the game-keeping industry.

Gordons has secured permission from the High Court for his client, Ricky McMorn, a self-employed gamekeeper, to have a decision by Natural England, the government’s wildlife licensing authority, judicially reviewed.

Mr McMorn made an application for a licence to control buzzards, which are killing young pheasants on six game shooting sites he runs in Northumberland but Natural England refused it. Mr McMorn fears he may lose his livelihood if the licence is not granted and his case is being supported by the National Gamekeepers Organisation.

Mrs Justice Thirlwall gave permission for the judicial review, on the grounds it is arguable that Natural England has been inconsistent, unreasonable and has taken into account irrelevant considerations in refusing the application. The full hearing is likely to take place in the first half of next year.

Judicial review is the legal doctrine under which decisions made by bodies undertaking public functions can be challenged through the courts and potentially quashed. The process involves scrutinising the validity of the procedures and reasoning which led to decisions being made.

The law allows control licences to be granted for preventing serious damage to livestock including, specifically, game birds kept for the provision of shooting. Where certain tests are met, these licences can’t be unreasonably withheld.

Yet Natural England continues to refuse Mr McMorn’s application, despite having already accepted that: the damage being experienced is serious; the buzzards are the main cause of the pheasant deaths; Mr McMorn has done all that can reasonably be expected of him in scaring off the birds of prey; and removing a small number of buzzards from the site would not compromise the species’ conservation status.

Mr McMorn had been placed, through no fault of his, in a position where he simply had to lawfully fight this serious threat to his living.

Buzzards are no more protected than many other breeds and Natural England has a duty to administer the law fairly. Yet, extensive efforts by Mr McMorn to resolve this case sensibly have proved fruitless, so now the court can decide whether Natural England has acted in a lawful manner, which we believe it has not.

Gordons spearheaded the recent bid by collateral descendants of Richard III to have Government permission for the king’s remains to be re-buried in Leicester overturned.

Gordons was approached about the Mr McMorn’s concerns after we advised the owner of Walshaw Moor, in the South Pennines, on a case concerning moorland management relating to grouse rearing. This also involved a judicial review of a Natural England decision, plus a five-week public enquiry.