UFU confirms High Court decision to allow second judicial review on cross compliance penalties

Wednesday, 23 May, 2018

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has confirmed a High Court decision (Wednesday 16 May) to allow a second judicial review against the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. (DAERA)
 
This is over a decision by DAERA to impose intentional cross compliance penalties in an accidental water pollution incident. The original decision by DAERA was deemed 'unlawful' at the first judicial review, where costs were awarded in favour of the UFU. DAERA was instructed to review their decision; however, they subsequently confirmed that the original decision still stood. It is on this basis the UFU sought the second judicial review.
 
The original case was taken on a test basis by the UFU and it involved one of its former presidents, Ian Marshall.  The UFU believes it won its arguments.  
 
UFU chief executive, Wesley Aston, said, “For the UFU, this case is a matter of principle. With the first judicial review we sought to establish guidelines. We believe we did this and are disappointed with the department’s response. As a result, our Executive decided to pursue a second related judicial review on behalf of all farmers.”
 
At issue in the case is whether NIEA and DAERA were right to effectively ignore the views of the independent external appeal panel, which considered that this particular incident was a negligent rather than intentional breach and had recommended accordingly. NIEA/DAERA considered it to be intentional and imposed a much higher financial penalty which resulted in a disallowance of around £50,000 of the associated CAP payment, an essential part of farm incomes in Northern Ireland.
 
“We are prepared to spend whatever it takes to challenge this grossly unfair decision. Despite comprehensively losing the first judicial review, and their decision making declared unlawful by a judge, it seems DAERA is happy to gamble again with public money,” said Mr Aston, “This case raises wider concerns about the approach of officials when there is no political input into decision-making.”
 
The UFU confirmed that in preparation for a second judicial review it employed consultants to re-examine the original water pollution dispute. The judicial review is scheduled for 28 September in Belfast High Court.