Wash Cockling ruling to be made next month

Lynn Shellfish boats moored in the Fisher Fleet, King's Lynn. ENGANL00120130422154109
Lynn Shellfish boats moored in the Fisher Fleet, King's Lynn. ENGANL00120130422154109

The long-running legal battle over cockle fishing rights in the Wash moves to the highest court in the land – the Supreme Court – next month.

Lynn Shellfish and other owners of local fishing vessels who operate out of King’s Lynn are set to challenge a June 2014 Court of Appeal ruling backing damages claims levelled against them by John Loose, who accuses them of fishing for cockles over part of the seabed in respect of which he claims exclusive rights.

Mr Loose, the tenant of a private fishery that dates back to 1761, claimed damages from the fishermen in a complex legal battle that has since raged for years.

It was subject of a six-day trial at the High Court in November 2012 which ended with triumph for Mr Loose and defeat for the fishermen. That decision was upheld by the Appeal Court.

Now the five law lords headed by the senior law lord, Lord Neuberger, are set to spend a day-and-a-half hearing an appeal by the fishermen against the earlier decisions.

Among other things the law lords will have to decide is whether sandbanks, which were originaly inaccessible from the shore but which have now become attached to the foreshore by the gradual build-up of silt, have become part of the foreshore in the eyes of the law.

Another question they will have to decide is where low tide extends to in the eyes of the law. This raises questions of whether it is to be assessed by the normal low water mark, a spring tide’s low water mark or the lowest astronomical tide.

In the Appeal Court ruling under challenge the judge’s said : “The appellants are owners of local fishing vessels. Mr Loose claimed that they had unlawfully interfered with his rights by fishing for cockles in the area of the private fishery between July and September 2007.

“He brought a claim for damages reflecting the value of the cockles which he said they had taken. The fishermen denied that the area in which they had been working formed part of the private fishery, which gave rise to the dispute about its extent.”