Farmers and Landowners Should be Aware of Landmark Natural England Legal Ruling.

A recent court case in which Natural England was found to have insufficient power to threaten a farmer with jail is an important ruling to be aware of.

The case centred around Natural England applying for an injunction to prevent a farmer from ploughing his fields due to concerns about archaeological features on the land.

But a judge ruled that Natural England does not have the necessary power to bring such an injunction - which is something of a landmark ruling.

The case is interesting because Natural England decided that its power to bring criminal prosecutions wasn’t enough to stop this farmer ploughing a field that contained archaeological features.

In this particular case, the tenant farmer had already been prosecuted and fined £7,500 for failing to comply with a stop notice but he went on to plough the field containing archaeological features for two more years in a row.

Natural England clearly felt that the criminal conviction and fine were insufficient to deter the farmer from further breaches and it wanted to obtain an injunction so that if the farmer failed to comply with it, Natural England could apply to jail the farmer for contempt of court.

The ruling is significant because it confirms that Natural England’s enforcement powers are limited to bringing criminal prosecutions where a farmer or landowner fails to comply with a stop notice.

Natural England argued that its position was similar to other regulators such as the Solicitors Regulatory Authority who can obtain injunctions against solicitors, but that was rejected by the court.

After carefully reviewing the powers granted to Natural England by the Government, the court found that the powers did not extend to issuing civil proceedings and applying for an injunction.

However farmers and landowners should note that Natural England can still prosecute for failing to comply with stop notices and these criminal proceedings may result in substantial fines.

Also Natural England might be able to get around the problem by following a procedure used by local authorities, who ask the Attorney General to lend their name to an action to enforce planning stop notices.

For more advice about agricultural legal matters, click here or contact me on 01691 663445.

Details about the case can be found here

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