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Photo: Badgers in the wild by Tim Brookes via Flickr.
Photo: Badgers in the wild by Tim Brookes via Flickr.
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Badger Trust wins 'right to know' about badger cull development

The Ecologist

1st August 2014

The Government must release key documents about its secret development of England's badger cull with the National Farmers Union. The Upper Tribunal ruled that the public interest would be served by a full disclosure.

The Badger Trust was unremitting and determined in challenging DEFRA's refusal and today's finding is a complete vindication for all its hard-work.

The Upper Tribunal at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday ordered DEFRA, the Environment Department, to release documents requested by the Badger Trust about the development of England's trial badger culls.

A full judgment has yet to be published, however the tribunal, which has equivalent status to the High Court, held that it was "not persuaded" by DEFRA's justifications for withholding key badger culling policy documents dating to 2010.

Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust and Policy Adviser Care For The Wild, said: "This is another important step forward in the Badger Trust's on-going legal challenge to show that it is cattle, not badgers, that are at the root of the spread of bovine TB.

"Although the written judgment is awaited, the Tribunal Chairman, Mr Justice Charles, made it quite clear that DEFRA had not been justified in withholding these documents from the Badger Trust in 2012."

FOI request was wrongly denied

The documents were subject to a Freedom of Information request by the Badger Trust in May 2012. Unknown to the Trust at that time, the documents related to the involvement of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) on a secret project board set up to explore essential aspects of the Government's policy.

DEFRA refused to disclose the 'Risk and Issue Logs' (RILs), which demonstrate the project board's hidden assessment of the risks associated with developing a farmer-led badger cull prior to the Minister's decision on introducing the policy.

In June 2013, the Information Commissioner ordered DEFRA to disclose the RILs, finding that the public interest test favoured disclosure.

DEFRA appealed to the First-tier Tribunal. In an unusual move, the case was transferred directly to the Upper Tribunal where both the Information Commissioner and the Badger Trust vigorously argued the case for disclosure.

Tribunal 'unconvinced' of DEFRA's arguments

Following two days of evidence and submissions at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Tribunal indicated that it was unconvinced by any of DEFRA's public interest arguments to justify withholding the RILs.

Jeff Hayden, Financial Director and the Trust's lead on judicial challenge, who attended the two-day hearing, said: "The Badger Trust was unremitting and determined in challenging DEFRA's refusal and today's finding is a complete vindication for all its hard-work.

"Our legal advisors, Bindmans LLP, have again proved an invaluable partner in our battle to protect badgers. We deeply regret that we have been unable to save the 1,861 that were slaughtered in the 2013 trials."

Full judgment will be handed down in due course. There will also be a further hearing around late October 2014 to address important wider issues to clarify the legal exceptions relied on by DEFRA to keep the Board's assessment of the risks under wraps.

Dominic Dyer commented: "This places the Badger Trust at the forefront of potentially groundbreaking developments in environmental information law, which will assist other NGOs like themselves to ensure greater transparency and scrutiny of controversial environmental decision-making within Government."

 

 

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