This morning we have instructed our legal team to withdraw our application for judicial review of the Strathbraan raven cull licence.
The reasons for this are as follows:
Our initial objectives for applying for judicial review were to (a) establish that the process and scientific justification for the SNH raven cull licence (i.e. ‘just to see what happens’) was flawed and should not be permitted to be used as the basis for this or for any future cull licences for ravens or other protected species; and (b) to have the 2018 raven cull licence stopped.
We have succeeded in achieving both objectives.
At the end of July, SNH published a review conducted by its own Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) which utterly condemned the scientific justificiation and design of the ‘study’, calling it “completely inadequate”, “seriously flawed” and “will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence”.
As a result of this damning review, SNH also announced that the licence holder (Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders, SCCW) had agreed to ‘voluntarily suspend’ the raven cull from the end of July until the licence expires on 31 December 2018, having killed 39 of its licensed quota of 69 ravens. On a superficial level this appeared, initially, to be a satisfactory response, but we had concerns that the ‘voluntary suspension’ was not legally binding and so the SCCW could continue to kill ravens at any time for the remaining duration of the licence.
However, since this public announcement from SNH it has been revealed privately (via correspondence between SNH ‘s lawyers and our lawyers) that the phrase ‘agreed to voluntarily suspend’ was misleading and SNH’s lawyers have apologised for this. A more accurate description of what happened was that the SCCW made an ‘undertaking to voluntarily suspend’ the raven cull. In the legal world, the choice of language is everything. According to our lawyers, the word ‘undertaking’ has far more legal significance than the word ‘agreed’, which means if the SCCW does decide to continue killing ravens under the terms of the current (flawed) licence, even though it has undertaken not to, this would open an opportunity for us to launch a further legal challenge.
As we have successfully achieved both our objectives, our application for judicial review becomes just an academic exercise with no tangible benefits, as the SAC has already declared the scientific justification as being “completely inadequate” and SNH will not be issuing any further licences without substantial review, and an undertaking has been made by SCCW not to kill any more ravens for the duration of the licence. If we were to proceed with our application for judicial review on this academic basis alone, there is a risk the judge would consider our case unfavourably and dismiss it, leaving us exposed to a demand for legal costs from SNH.
We feel we have a responsibility to use our crowdfunded donations wisely and pursuing an academic exercise just to prove a point would not be a prudent use of these funds, nor a good use of court time. On balance, we would have more to lose than gain. Instead, we intend to hold the remaining funds as a war chest so that if/when SNH decides to issue a further licence permitting the killing of ravens in Strathbraan, we will be in a strong position to react quickly and launch another legal challenge if it is deemed necessary. Our funds are currently being professionally audited and we have a significant amount remaining, which will be held by our lawyers in a ring-fenced account.
Our fight to get #Justice4Ravens is not over. SNH indicated that the 2018 raven cull licence was part of a proposed five-year ‘study’ at Strathbraan and although SNH has admitted it has to review and amend its “seriously flawed” study design, we are well aware that future licences are quite likely, if not in time for 2019 then probably for 2020. We consider the withdrawal of our application for judicial review as a temporary measure and will not hesitate to apply for a further judicial review if SNH’s incompetence continues.
We’d like to record our sincere thanks to our legal team, Sindi Mules (Balfour & Manson) and Aidan O’Neill QC (Matrix Chambers) for their hard work and commitment to our case. They have been fantastic to work with and we look forward to seeking their advice again as SNH’s future raven cull plans become clearer.
We’d also like to thank you, our donors, whose generous support allowed us to launch this legal challenge. It’s a cliche but our success in this case would not have been possible without your trust and support (and of course, your donations!). Thank you all.
We will continue to keep you informed of any new developments.
Ruth Tingay & Logan Steele, on behalf of Scottish Raptor Study Group
Mant thanks to Sue Hetherington letting us know this news.