Animal Aid

No justice! - Andrew Tyler reports on the Cambridge primate centre High Court

Posted 1 August 2004

On July 30 at the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, Mr Justice Collins ruled that the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), John Prescott, had been correct in his decision to overrule his own Planning Inspector and allow Cambridge University to build a massive monkey research centre on green belt land on the outskirts of the city. The case against the DPM, brought jointly by Animal Aid and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), was dismissed.

Caged monkeys

In our media statement, we declared that the decision was "a good one for an already over powerful government but bad for democracy, bad for animals in laboratories - who suffer grievously from the kind of experiments planned by Cambridge - and bad for patients with serious neurological illnesses, who need modern, relevant research."

We pledged that "the battle to ensure that the monkey centre is never built will continue."

The High Court challenge was the culmination of months of planning with our legal team, headed by Queen's Counsel, Neil King. Our case was strong - the three principal strands of argument being that:

  • The matter was predetermined - Prescott was going to grant Cambridge University permission to proceed whatever the outcome of the public planning inquiry that was staged 18 months ago. This was clear from public statements issued by Tony Blair and Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, insisting that the centre was vital and had to go ahead. These statements came before the planning inquiry even began hearing evidence.

  • Prescott made his decision without having before him our key scientific and planning evidence - presented on our behalf at the inquiry, respectively, by Dr Ray Greek, Scientific Director of Europeans For Medical Advancement (EFMA), and planning expert Anthony Keen. Prescott said he was satisfied with the Inspector's summary of their evidence. In contrast, all the evidence from Cambridge University was at his disposal and he quoted directly from it.

  • Cambridge University had insisted all along that its proposed primate research was sufficiently important to outweigh the fact that the centre would be sited on green belt land. Yet the permission granted was for 'research and development of products and processes'. This means any kind of industry could move in.

Caged marmoset

None of these arguments impressed Justice Collins. Instead, he decided that the central question was whether the government could correctly say that it was its policy that such a centre should be built and that, in applying that policy, it could support a specific location, even if that location is in the green belt. Justice Collins decided that the government was entitled to take this line. The role of any public planning inquiry was simply to consider peripheral matters such as traffic volume.

Prescott insisted on defending his decision in court even though the University announced that it would not be going ahead with the project as long ago as January. Animal Aid, together with NAVS, felt compelled to take on the Deputy Prime Minister because the planning permission he granted is active for five years. This means that the University can change its mind at any time within that time frame.

What is staggering about this ruling is that there is no evidence of properly formulated 'national policy' on such centres, other than a couple of letters written by Science Minister Lord Sainsbury saying that the proposed centre met with his approval and was indeed in line with government policy.

As our solicitor, Norna Hughes, noted after the case: "The consequences are that if the government supports a controversial planning application, say road building, a nuclear plant, or, as here, an animal testing facility - and the public want to oppose it - they will be wasting their time if a government department writes a letter to say it is a very important scheme and needed in this location. The Cambridge decision has severely curtailed the legal rights of the public to have their views on planning applications heard, let alone taken into account, which is an erosion of local democracy in favour of centralised decision making."

Animal Aid participated - at considerable expense - in the planning inquiry, which began November 2002, because the Inspector made it clear at a pre-Inquiry meeting that the question of whether or not there was a 'need' for such a centre was a 'material' issue that would inform his judgement. Animal Aid arranged for Dr Greek to come over from the US to give scientific evidence, and we engaged a legal team to represent us. Our main 'coalition' partner at the Inquiry - as at the High Court - was NAVS.

Monkey experiment. Photo credit: ISAV

Dr Greek prevailed in his argument that monkey research would not benefit humans with conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's - the Inspector declaring that the University had failed to demonstrate the 'need' for such research. For this and other reasons, he recommended that the centre should not be allowed to go ahead. In throwing out his own Inspector's recommendation, the DPM said that the question of 'need' should not have been examined at the inquiry. This was because government policy was that the 'need' was already established. Justice Collins upheld that view. And yet Prescott did not see fit to tell us that the whole need argument was an irrelevancy - until we'd gone to great expense and effort in taking on and winning that argument.

We regard this as a gross injustice and are considering what options are open to us - mindful of the fact that further legal action could add significantly to an already substantial bill.

Orchestrated campaign to shut down the vivisection debate

Our High Court challenge came at the height of an orchestrated campaign - by vivisection lobbyists and their government supporters - aimed at focusing attention upon the 'extremist threat' and away from the increasingly important debate as to whether animal experiments are ethically and scientifically valid.

The atmosphere of hysteria culminated in the announcement of new draconian measures aimed at cracking down on the 'terrorists'. Justice Collins, several times during his deliberations in the High Court, referred to newspaper stories he had read - and no doubt been influenced by - about these 'terrorists'.

In our public statement, we noted that increased restriction on legitimate, open debate and peaceful protest leads to increased frustration and - by a small minority - to direct action as the chosen method of expressing opposition.

"Animal Aid", we made clear, "is committed to non-violent, non-intimidatory campaigning, as is the vast majority of animal rights advocates. The broad commitment to non-violence is made evident by our deep disgust at the kind of Home Office-sanctioned cruelty that takes place in animal labs.

"The current atmosphere of hysteria', we added, 'denotes a moral panic - more and more people are troubled by our message, and so the gatekeepers of the orthodoxy put up the barricades and attempt to whip up a frenzy of paranoia to cloud the real issue.

"The intention is not only to demonise the broad animal advocacy movement, but also to make it virtually impossible for a scientist to stick his or her neck out and question or indeed contradict the message being peddled by the vivisectors.

Baby monkey

"Those campaigning against the use of animals in research are paraded as a sorry collection of moronic thugs - despite the fact that during 30 years of radical animal rights campaigning nobody involved in animal experimentation has ever been killed or even seriously injured. In contrast, three animal campaigners have been killed in recent years. At Animal Aid, two of our peaceful local contacts have been attacked in their own homes, one beaten up whilst leafleting in a town centre, and, at head office, we have received firebomb and death threats.

"The Home Office recently admitted in a parliamentary answer that it had never conducted an evaluation as to whether or not animal experiments actually benefit human medicine, or assessed studies by any other party (see last Outrage). This is profoundly significant and more evidence that the true crime is that animals are being subjected to experiments that are cruel, immoral and scientifically without any merit."

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