The High Court (Mr Justice Jay) has handed down Judgment in a case concerning the proper approach to a Fisheries Management Agreement made between the United Kingdom and Guernsey.
Guernsey sought judicial review of the government’s decision to suspend that Agreement, which had in turn led to the suspension of certain ‘reciprocal’ fishing licences allowing Guernsey fishermen to fish more than 12 nautical miles from its coast. The claim was that the decision was irrational because it did not solve the problem of over-fishing in the 0-12 mile zone; and/or a violation of Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR.
The Court dismissed the claim, accepting Defra’s argument that the suspension of the FMA was a rational response to a situation in which Guernsey was no longer accepting that fishing within the 12 nautical mile zone was subject to any form of quota. In light of that stance, the core of the agreed basis for the FMA had broken down. Whilst the Court was not being asked to construe the FMA as such, or determine whose understanding of it was legally correct (because it was agreed that the FMA was not intended to create a binding contract), it ruled that Defra’s stance on the matter was on any view reasonable (and more reasonable than Guernsey’s). The Court went on to find that, whilst the government’s decision had interfered with individual Guernsey fishermen’s A1P1 possessions, such interference was justified, in light of the broad (and unobjectionable) aims of the government in fairly distributing fish quota, consistently with the UK’s EU and environmental obligations.
The Court also considered whether (by analogy with the position in relation to making treaties with independent sovereign states) a complaint about a decision by the government to suspend the FMA with Guernsey (for essentially diplomatic reasons) was non-justiciable. The Court’s conclusion was that the claim was justiciable, but (as above) went on to reject it on its merits.
The full judgment can be read here.
James Eadie QC and David Pievsky acted for Defra.