UK: Legal Guide To Issues Connected With The Foot And Mouth Outbreak

Last Updated: 30 April 2001
Article by James Selby Bennett

This guide is prepared by David Williams (Humphries Kirk Dorchester Office) Simon Sherbrooke (Humphries Kirk Wareham Office) and James Selby Bennett (Humphries Kirk Poole Office). We are solicitors and working farmers and it is designed to provide a practical reference, prepared as at 27 March 2001 on the basis that Dorset is not an infected area.

  1. Control Of Your Own Farm
    1. In principle you are entitled to control your farm as you see fit. This means that you are perfectly entitled to lay down conditions for access to it and to prevent unauthorised access. However the risk on goods that are ‘dropped at the farm gate’ passes to you when they are dropped and therefore if they are stolen or broken at that time, you bear the loss.
    2. If you have tenants or occupiers of buildings etc. who have a need for access then you are still entitled to lay down reasonable conditions for such access (such as restricting them to their houses, requesting them to use the disinfectant pads and buckets etc.). Imposition of reasonable restrictions is most unlikely to be deemed to be interference with an access right.
  2. Rights Of Way
    1. The Foot and Mouth Disease Order 1983 has been amended entitling the local Highway Authority (County Council or unitary authority ) to pass regulations prohibiting people from moving onto common or unenclosed land and using footpaths or rights of way.
    2. They are not allowed to prevent movement of people onto made up carriageways or prevent entry of the owner or occupier of land (i.e. anybody who has a lawful right to occupy such as tenants, sporting tenants etc.).
    3. As a matter of practicality remember sometimes it is sensible to put additional ‘control pads’ of disinfectant inside the farm as well as at the farm gate, for example around tenanted cottages.
    4. A number of people have statutory rights of entry onto land but most of those people are ‘public authorities’ within the meaning of the Human Rights Act and must exercise their powers reasonably. It is difficult to see how it would be reasonable except in the most unusual circumstances, for anybody other than vets or MAFF to insist on entry onto a farm in the face of a reasonable request from the farmer not to so enter.
    5. In relation to premises in a ‘controlled area’ the Local Authority and/or MAFF have much wider powers of preventing or permitting access.
  3. Movement Of Livestock
    1. At the moment there are three types of licence:-
      1. Long Distance Licence - over 5km;
      2. Local Movement Licence - between two places that are not more than 5km apart (as the crow flies although the journey may be up to 10km);
      3. Occupational Licence - for journeys of less than 0.5km and which may be daily e.g. from a milking parlour to a pasture.
    2. Provided you have the necessary licence, you may drive animals across a public road, but not along it. You must disinfect the road afterwards with an approved disinfectant. If you need to take animals along a road then you have to put them into a trailer.
    3. Details of the notes for guidance are available from the MAFF website
    4. Remember that none of the ordinary laws concerning livestock transport have been relaxed.
  4. Use Of Force And Criminal Law
    1. The law of trespass still applies and a landowner is only allowed to use reasonable force and only then providing it is to protect his own individual rights, his livestock or property. Remember the Martin case - reasonable force means just that.
    2. Landowners are still entitled to shoot dogs or wild animals which he has reasonable cause to suspect of maiming, killing or worrying livestock, provided he can genuinely show that he has reasonable cause and he has to report it to the police afterwards.
    3. It is obviously very unsatisfactory to give this advice but if in doubt it is difficult to see that farmers would get away with any kind of assault on members of the public, even if the member of the public is trespassing. Calling the police is really the best option. However it is perfectly permissible to block somebody physically, to block their vehicle, to block in their vehicle and then call the police, etc. i.e. passive force is probably much more likely to be excused than active force or threats.
  5. Human Rights Act
    1. Under the Human Rights Act 1998 section 6(1) it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with one of the human rights granted by the Human Rights Convention. The expression ‘public authority’ includes MAFF, Dorset County Council and indeed anybody ‘whose functions are functions of a public nature’.
    2. The relevant Human Rights will include right to liberty and security, right to have your civil rights determined by fair trial (which includes having your civil rights determined by a civil servant from MAFF using the rules of natural justice and ensuring that there is a proper appeal) the right and respect of the farmers private and family life and his home, the protection of the farmers peaceful enjoyment of his possessions (including his farm and his livestock).
    3. The assertion of these human rights do not make it unlawful for the government to carry out the necessary disease control methods to try to stop this pestilence. They do however mean that in making decisions concerning individual farmers the authorities must act properly and reasonably in the exercise of the various powers involved in stopping this disease, including, for example in Dorset, decisions concerning Movement Licences etc. The obligation on the authority under the Human Rights Act should prevent any ‘jobsworth’ attitudes although sometimes it helps to remind a public authority of its obligation!
  6. Miscellaneous
    1. Rates - Businesses with the rateable value of £12,000 or less in rural districts which have adopted the scheme will be available for a rate reduction. Purbeck, West Dorset, North Dorset and East Dorset are eligible but it is up to them whether they adopt the scheme.
    2. Useful website addresses include - - (the Cobra website) - (which includes the Rural Stress Info Network 0207 6412916, the Royal Agriculture Benevolent Institution 01865 727888 and Farmer In Crisis Network 07002 326326) -
    3. Employment matters- a disruption to the business would generate a "redundancy situation" and would entitle a farmer to request voluntary suspension.
  7. Legal Help
    1. The NFU operates a free legal service for all farming members, operated out of North Somerset and South Devon. They should be the first port of call.
    2. As local farming solicitors Humphries Kirk offer a more local advice to farmers and rural businesses through any of our offices.
    3. Insolvency Advice - Some farmers and rural businesses may be seriously worried about the future liability of the business.
      1. Insolvency law and practice is a way of permitting businesses to survive financial difficulties and to reposition themselves for a better future. Humphries Kirk can arrange for insolvency advice (which does not necessarily include bankruptcy, but can easily include things like managed voluntary arrangements).
      2. It should particularly be borne in mind that neither banks nor landlords win if a tenant or customer goes bankrupt. It is therefore in their interests to find a managed solution, as much as the farmers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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