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High Court upholds Government u-turn on Derbyshire badger cull licence


The Administrative Court today gave judgment in R (National Farmers Union & Anor) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [2020] EWHC 1192 (Admin), a judicial review of the decision by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to direct Natural England not to grant a licence to kill badgers to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 in the county of Derbyshire. 

Natural England, the body responsible for considering badger cull licences for bovine TB control, had decided that T&G Stone Ltd should be granted the licence after a lengthy process, in an area of Derbyshire where bovine TB is particularly severe. The Secretary of State intervened at the very last minute and directed Natural England not to grant the licence, for “political” reasons not connected with preventing the spread of bovine TB, against a background in which the Prime Minister Boris Johnson had expressed an interest in the decision.  Mrs Justice Andrews DBE held that:

  1. The Secretary of State (as opposed to Natural England) is not bound to follow his own published policy and guidance because he has a “residual discretion” (outside the Guidance) to direct Natural England not to grant licences if the Secretary of State does not wish to do so for “political” reasons;
  2. This did not frustrate the applicants’ legitimate expectations because although they had been led to believe they would obtain the licence and fulfilled all the published criteria, they had not been given an express promise that a licence would be granted; and
  3. The Secretary of State’s decision that “political” reasons should take precedence over the unanimous scientific advice of Natural England, Defra, the Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer that it was essential to grant the licence for disease control reasons was reasonable.

The judgment is here.

Maya Lester QC and Malcolm Birdling appeared for the NFU and T&G Stone Ltd, instructed by Bowcock Cuerden LLP