Farmers could now receive increased statutory compensation for thousands of birds they had to have culled following a successful representation of seven poultry producers in a judicial review.
The review concerned the government’s calculation of compensation for birds affected by avian influenza (AI) in 2021 and 2022.
In a landmark ruling, which followed a legal challenge brought against the Animal & Plant Health Agency, the High Court decided the government has been wrongly calculating compensation.
The case, brought by Jacksons Law, surrounded farmers who had carried out their statutory obligation to report suspected AI in their birds.
Farmers involved in the case fulfilled their duty to report to APHA. After confirming an outbreak of AI, the agency subsequently condemned all birds on the farms for culling – including healthy animals.
APHA officers returned at a later date to cull the birds. Legislation provides that farmers are entitled to compensation for healthy birds culled in order to curb the spread of avian influenza.
But the farmers involved in the case argued they were under-compensated, as compensation should have been calculated by reference to the number of healthy birds on the date of condemnation, rather than at the point that they were actually culled.
APHA has often delayed carrying out the cull after having condemned the birds to be culled and, as a result of those delays, thousands of birds contracted AI between condemnation and culling, and were therefore not compensated.
However, a High Court Judge has now ruled in favour of the seven farmers represented by Jacksons Law, finding that the obligation to compensate accrues at the point the healthy birds are condemned to be culled, rather than at the later point when they are actually culled.
The government must now reconsider the amount of compensation to be paid to the seven farmers – which also opens up claims for other farmers across the UK.
Toby Joel, a partner at Jacksons Law, said the case had been a hugely positive result for the farmers.
"The judge has recognised they did not receive the amount of compensation to which they were entitled, so as to reflect the number of healthy birds in their flock when the decision is taken for those birds to be culled.
“Instead, compensation had been calculated based on the number of healthy birds at the time of culling, which often involved considerable delays, allowing the disease to spread through the flock in the interim period.
“This ruling means the government will now have to reconsider the calculation of compensation for these farmers”.
He added the ruling doesn’t end with these seven farmers, as any farmer who has claimed compensation for AI has the right to have their compensation reconsidered.
“In fact, farmers affected in previous AI outbreaks should also consider getting in contact with APHA to have their compensation reconsidered,” Mr Joel said.
While the legal claim referred to outbreaks of AI which occurred in 2021 to 2022, the judgment also recognises that the government’s obligation to compensate farmers is a continuing one.
This means that farmers affected by the APHA’s unlawful policy on bird flu compensation could have claims going back many years.
“This result has been achieved for hardworking farmers thanks to a fantastic team effort at Jacksons Law, as well as the sterling work and support from the NFU,” Mr Joel said.
“We are delighted to have been able to support the farmers involved, along with the NFU, in bringing this case to court to enable farmers to claim the right and just level of compensation for healthy birds culled as a result of an avian influenza outbreak.”
The farmers, all members of the NFU’s Legal Assistance Scheme, used the scheme to report their claims to the union, who then appointed Jacksons Law Firm.
The NFU has provided significant financial support to its members throughout the proceedings.
NFU President Minette Batters said the High Court judgment was a 'tremendous result' for the members who brought the legal challenge.
She said: “AI is a truly devasting disease and so many farmers have suffered and are still suffering the after-effects of the catastrophic outbreak witnessed in 2021/22.
“The High Court has made clear that APHA’s AI compensation policy is unlawful, and we now look to government to rectify this wrong and to pay farmers the compensation to which they are lawfully entitled.”