Today we go to court – to the Court of Appeal – although I won’t actually be going anywhere. I’ll be facing the same computer screen at which I spend a lot of my time. I had better have a shave and put on some clothes before then although video cameras will be off.
Both the RSPB and I, as an individual, are separately challenging the legality of Natural England’s licensing of brood meddling of Hen Harriers. The RSPB and I have different detailed legal grounds but we are both arguing that this licensing was unlawful (it’s also a bad idea because it is giving the criminal elements in grouse shooting what they want (fewer Hen Harriers on their moors) whilst not giving Hen Harriers what they need (less illegal persecution on grouse moors) but that doesn’t make it immediately unlawful).
I wish the RSPB every success in their challenge. It feels a bit as though they and I are on the same side but bowling from different ends of the pitch. I wish them every success in taking wickets and I’m sure they feel the same about me. To extend the slightly dodgy cricketing analogy, Natural England’s stance is palpably suspect and looks very flawed. Earlier in the match, the on-pitch umpire, Justice Lang, gave Natural England ‘Not Out’ but we are now going to the third umpire, in fact three Appeal Court judges, for closer inspection of the decision. The next day and a half involves the legal equivalent of ball-tracking, a snickometer and hot spot technology forensically to examine what has happened according to the arcane laws of the game.
A bit like cricket, the result of this match is taking quite a time to resolve. The match started almost exactly three years ago when Natural England issued the licence for brood meddling after several years of controversy. The original on-pitch umpire’s decision, that of Justice Lang, was handed down in March 2019 and here we are in January 2021. We will almost certainly not get a result at the end of this day and a half in court – we will have to wait a few more weeks for a written agreed judgment from the Court of Appeal.
Thank you to the hundreds of people who crowdfunded this match – there is no way I could have taken to the field without you (see here and here), and back in 2018 there was no certainty that the RSPB was going to make a match of it.
To have got this far is an achievement in itself. There are various stages at which our challenge could have failed; we might have decided our case was weak or we might have been nervous about going ahead, we might have failed to raise the money for the original challenge or for this appeal, we might have been turned down at various stages in the legal process but none of those things have happened.