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Farm Stripped of Subsidies Over Raptor Poisonings Wins High Court Test Case

In an important decision for anyone engaged in agriculture, a farming company has succeeded in overturning a stiff financial penalty imposed after a gamekeeper poisoned wild raptors in order to preserve game birds for shooting.

country house, farmThe gamekeeper, who worked on the company’s 4,200-acre farm, poisoned 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk, which he saw as a threat to 2,500 pheasants and partridges that had been laid down for sporting purposes. He was subsequently convicted of an offence under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1981.

The Rural Payments Agency, which administers the single farm payment scheme by which farmers are rewarded for using sound agricultural methods and protecting the environment, later decided that the company should lose 75 per cent of the subsidy it would otherwise have received in the relevant year. That was subsequently reduced to 55 per by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In overturning that penalty, the High Court noted that the subsidy scheme established as part of the EU Common Agricultural Policy by Council Regulation (EC) No 73/2009 does not recognise the concept of vicarious liability. There had been no finding of fault against the farming company or its senior management and there was no evidence that the gamekeeper’s criminal acts were directly attributable to them.

There had been no inquiries made as to the level of fault, if any, on the part of the company or its management. The Secretary of State had not been entitled to treat the gamekeeper’s conviction, by itself, as satisfying the requirement of the Regulation that breaches justifying a reduction in subsidy must be the result of an act or omission directly attributable to the farmer.

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