By Naomi Webber
Two years ago, in one of the UK’s more unusual human rights cases, we reported on the fisherman’s rights victory of Mr Mott. The salmon fisherman has hit the headlines again today, following an appeal by the Environment Agency at the Supreme Court.
Mr Mott was one of the last fishermen in the country to use a medieval method of salmon fishing called a ‘putcher rank’, which involves setting up timber frames across a tidal river and trapping fish in willow baskets. This has been his sole livelihood since 1979.
In a somewhat ‘fishy’ move in 2012, the Environment Agency imposed a limit on the number of fish that could be caught in a season in order to protect salmon stocks.
Previously Mr Mott had been catching 600 fish every year, giving him an income of around £60,000. He has now been told he can only catch 30 fish per year. In 2013 the Environmental Agency told him he could only catch 23 fish – the following year they changed the limit to 24.
‘Irrational’ and Breaching Human Rights?
Mr Mott challenged this decision saying it was both ‘irrational’ and a breach of his human right to use his property (Article 1 of the First Protocol). Part of the Human Rights Convention, and UK domestic law through the Human Rights Act (1998), Article 1 of the First Protocol states that everyone is entitled to “peaceful enjoyment of his possessions”. However, this doesn’t stop the state from “enforcing such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property” when it’s in the “general interest”.
In an earlier ruling in 2016, the Court of Appeal said it was not irrational, but it was a breach of his human rights. The judges decided that he should be entitled to compensation; however, The Environment Agency ‘app-eel-ed’ the judgment.
An Exceptional Case
The Supreme ‘Caught’ has now had its say (which is final) and has upheld the original judgement.
After much ‘de-bait’, it found that the conditions imposed by the Environmental Agency effectively deprived Mr Mott of the use of his putcher rack, and it gave no consideration to the effect on his livelihood. Therefore, the judges ruled that Mr Mott is entitled to compensation.
The Supreme Court stressed that this case is exceptional, and national authorities are permitted broad discretion in imposing environmental controls. While the ‘scales’ of justice have weighed in favour of Mr Mott on this occasion, this does not mean that others can expect to receive compensation whenever their use of their property is limited.