LEGAL AID AWARDED

Following a year-long battle, Uncaged Campaigns' director Dan Lyons has finally been awarded legal aid in the battle to defend against Imutran and Novartis Pharma's claims for damages and costs over breach of confidentiality and copyright following the publication of the Diaries of Despair report and leaked documents on 21 September 2000. In defending the case, the Defendants are also aiming to overturn the injunction currently banning the publication of the leaked information.

The turning point in the arduous application happened when the Legal Services Commission (LSC - the Government department which administers legal aid) finally accepted the legal merits of the Defence case. Those merits turned on whether limited disclosure to the regulators, such as Home Office, but not to the public, was sufficient.

Our argument for unfettered publication and freedom of expression is based on our contention that the Imutran documents raise serious questions about the conduct of the regulatory system itself: the Government has deliberately failed to implement the law and regulations as Parliament and the public intended because of its collusive relationship with animal research companies such as Imutran/Novartis and Huntingdon Life Sciences, and callous attitude towards animals and their welfare.

Having accepted the merits of our case, the LSC placed our application before its Public Interest Advisory Panel. The Panel examined the case in order to decide whether the case has a 'significant wider public interest' - a further hurdle to negotiate before the awarding of legal aid. Following their meeting, the Panel informed us:

"The Panel considered that this case raised important questions as to the public's right to information concerning medical research. The case was significant firstly for the legal issue as to the application of Article 10 of the Convention [i.e. the European Convention on Human Rights], the right to freedom of expression. Further the case raised more general issues as to public accountability in research activity. The Panel was therefore satisfied that the significance of the case extended beyond the particular field of animal experimentation, although that area was of course recognised as one of high public concern.

"The Panel was therefore satisfied that this case has a significant wider public interest. Among cases which have a significant wider public interest, the current practice of the Panel is to assess the public interest in one of three categories, namely, 'exceptional', 'high' or simply in the category of 'significant' wider public interest. In the circumstances referred to above the Panel gave this case a rating of 'High'... The decision of the Panel was unanimous."

[Note: we are informed that the vast majority of cases receive merely a 'significant' rating, while 'exceptional' is unheard of.]

The Panel decision is a massive endorsement of the importance and the merits of our case.

Dan Lyons comments:

"The publication of the Imutran documents has the potential to cause seismic changes in the debate about animal experiments and obviously that has enormous significance for the ultimate question of the scale of animal experimentation and whether it takes place at all. For the first time, the public, the media and politicians will be aware of the true horror of animal experimentation, and the inaccurate claims made by companies such as Imutran for the potential human benefits of such extreme cruelty. These experiments only receive Government licenses because this truth is concealed from democratic scrutiny. This is why the legal battle we are fighting, and our political battle for an independent judicial inquiry into the Government's appalling misconduct, are of such historic importance."

Uncaged Campaigns, 10 July 2002

 

Baboon
Credit: Organ Farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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