Mon 29 Jul 2019

Ignorance of the law is no defence

Reports in the press this week told of a Gamekeeper on a Scottish grouse-shooting estate in Berwickshire pleading guilty to illegally killing buzzards, goshawks, badgers, a peregrine falcon and an otter. 

David Anderson, Conservation Manager for Forestry Commission Scotland commented that: “In 40 years working in wildlife management I have never seen so many protected species dead in such a small area.”

I am sure that these reports will have shocked and horrified many people. The question arises as to why this individual  felt these acts to be necessary and how, in the case of some of the birds and animals killed, there could be any justification for these acts.

The legal position is very clear. Under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 a landowner, shooting business or manager can be held criminally liable for the actions of their employees. This means that these activities  have implications for the perpetrator,  and also for the owner of the Estate who employs the perpetrator.

In an earlier case in 2014, a landowner was fined £675 over the actions of a Gamekeeper, in Dumfries and Galloway, who had illegally poisoned a buzzard. This new case appears to be significantly more serious and so it remains to be seen what level of fine may be imposed on the Estate in this case. The Gamekeeper in question is due to be sentenced in August 2019

It is not just a matter of a punitive  financial penalty. In the 2014 case, the shoot was closed down as a result of the offence and the Gamekeeper lost his job. There were and are serious on going financial ramifications for all. The landowner in the 2014 case apparently was unaware of their vicarious liability  and  thought that they had sufficient safeguards in place to prevent this type of activity but that patently was not the case.  The  Estate owners were deemed to be vicariously liable for the actions of their Gamekeeper and literally paid the price for not ensuring that they knew and understood the law and had adequate safeguards in place.

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