Defra accused of 'flat earth' approach to evidence
A judicial review into the government’s plans for badger culling in England to control the spread of bovine TB began at the High Court this morning before Mr Justice Ouseley.
The Badger Trust wrote to Defra last month, giving grounds for a potential judicial review (see solicitorsjournal.com, 5 March 2012).
This follows a successful judicial review against the Welsh government, which announced in March that it would vaccinate badgers rather than cull them.
Gwendolen Morgan, solicitor at Bindmans, acts for the trust. She said there were “serious flaws” in the way environment secretary Caroline Spelman reached her decision.
“Defra’s culling plans are bad for farmers, bad for cattle and bad for badgers,” Morgan said.
“The plans cost millions, and threaten to prompt rather than prevent the spread of disease. We hope that the decision to cull will be struck down by the court.”
Morgan said the trust had not embarked on the litigation lightly.
“However, against Defra’s ‘flat earth’ approach to the evidence and determination to pursue an unlawful and costly culling spree, they have been left with no option.”
The trust is to argue that the proposed badger cull would “cause rather than prevent” disease in cattle.
Although the secretary of state expects a 12-16 per cent reduction in bovine TB in the cull areas, the trust will say that Defra’s own evidence accepted that the cull would cause the spread of the disease around those areas.
In doing this, the government would be breaching the requirement of “preventing the spread of the disease” in the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
The trust will also argue that the cost benefit assessment used by the DEFRA was made on the wrong basis, presuming that the cheaper ‘free-shooting’ method of killing badgers could be used rather than the more expensive trapping and shooting.
The final ground relied on by the trust will be that the guidance given by DEFRA to Natural England under section 15 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 was invalid and culling was not one of Natural England’s functions.