Seven years after a statutory instrument updating nature regulations glided virtually unobserved through Westminster, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has this week admitted it “unlawfully” put a new crime on the statute books.
The unintended outcome of the rarely deployed Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 Amendment Regulations, Statutory Instrument (SI) 1487/2004, has been shot down by lawyers’ persistent questioning.
Quincy Whitaker, a barrister at Doughty Street chambers, London, and Nigel Barnes, a solicitor at the Sunderland and Newcastle firm Ben Hoare Bell, realised that a parliamentary drafting error had accidentally removed a previous defence and laid in its place, cuckoo-like, a constitutionally impossible crime.
The regulations, meant to harmonise UK bird protection rules with EU laws, made illegal the possession of wild eggs collected from 1954-1981. Police and wildlife agencies used the new regulations to prosecute a number of people.
The change in the law was never the subject of public consultation, neither was it debated in parliament. The retrospective criminalisation of historic collections has caused museums, scientific research organisations and private collectors to the risk of prosecution.
Yup, through a statutory instrument they introduced a retrospective crime.
“The House of Lords had specifically rejected the creation of the offence which the amendment regulations in fact created when the original act (the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) was debated in parliament.
“To create an offence that was contrary to the express will of parliament by delegated legislation without informing anyone that it has that effect is highly unconstitutional to say the least.”
One that had previously been considered by Parliament and rejected.
And yes, this is how we are ruled now. By ignorant, vile, stupid and just plain incompetent clipboard wielders.
Hang them all I say, hang them all.