Green Light for Vigilantes

News

Marine Management Organisation wins legal case against Greenpeace and then bottles it.

The MMO’s decision to suspend its prosecution of Greenpeace, is a desperate betrayal of the fishing industry. It represents a massive breach of trust and confidence that will take a lot to repair.

The MMO had been given clearance by the courts that it was fully within its authority to prosecute Greenpeace for dumping boulders within an MPA without a licence as part of its ongoing anti-fishing campaign. Despite having obtained sufficient evidence that an offence had been committed, the MMO has chosen to abandon the case because of some quite irrelevant side remarks made by the judge. An option to appeal against the judge’s misapplication of the law has not been taken.

This decision will have consequences that will undermine the MMO’s authority across the piece. It will confirm the fishing industry’s view that the rule of law is applied unevenly. It very much fits the current theme in high politics that there are rules for some which don’t have to be followed if you have friends in high places. It will undoubtedly mean that the roll-out of the catch-app and iVMS will be made many times more difficult. Instead of sending a signal that we are all equal under the law, it will send a green light for further vigilante actions as already seen on the Dogger Bank and Channel.

The Marine Management Organisation has made the wrong call. The MMO should have done the right thing and now its credibility will be called into question.

In the wake of the TCA, and the cooperation needed to build effective well-designed fisheries management plans under the new Fisheries Act, rebuilding trust between the regulator and those whose activities it seeks to regulate should have been an absolute priority. Together with the revelation that the increased catch limits for bass agreed with the EU are available now to the European industry but not UK fishers until mid-year because of a legal technicality, this decision will create nothing but barriers.

For those of us who have worked for a collaborative relationship between fisheries regulators, fisheries scientists and fishers , this is a massive reverse and there is no other way to express it.

As for the judge in the case:

“Responsibilities which are conferred by law on ministers politically answerable to Parliament should not be shifted to judges politically answerable to no one. The function of the courts is not to review the social or economic merits of government policy. It is to determine whether it had the power in law to act as it did… and whether the decision-making process was defective.

…Judges are not voted in and cannot be voted out. They should be careful therefore not to exceed their proper role.”

Jonathan Sumption LRB 10/2/2022

The MMO’s decision to abandon this prosecution is an abrogation of its own duties as a regulator and branch of government. There are already questions about the MMO’s arms-length-status to government in the context of devolution and political accountability because only the English fishing industry has no dedicated voice at ministerial level within internal UK negotiations. This case will not diminish those concerns.