Using the Law
Why the law matters
The BUAV has always used the law as a central part of its campaigning against animal experiments. Ethical and scientific arguments may lie at the heart of the debate but ultimately, animal experiments are sanctioned by legislation.
Only through changing legislation will the deliberate infliction of suffering on animals in the name of science be ended.
All too often, in an attempt to sway public opinion, governments and researchers hide behind fine-sounding words and their own secrecy to claim that the law gives meaningful protection to lab animals. The BUAV’s experience, borne out of undercover investigations and other evidence, is that the reality is very different.
How the BUAV uses the law
Sometimes we will take legal cases against the Government, but our legal strategy is much broader than this. Here are some examples of the way the BUAV uses the law:
Judicial Reviews : A Judicial Review is a type of legal case through which the courts ensure that the Government and other public authorities are applying the law properly. Click here to read about the BUAV’s Judicial Reviews.
Freedom of Information: the BUAV is engaged in several battles under the Freedom of Information Act to try to force the Home Office and universities to release information (in anonymised form) about animal experiments. Only with meaningful information can there be informed public debate. It is astonishing – but revealing – the lengths to which our opponents will go to suppress and control information.
We have won cases taken to the Information Commissioner. We also won a key case before the Information Tribunal, but unfortunately the ruling has since been overturned in the courts. The Court of Appeal said that it is simply up to animal researchers to decide what information they give to the Home Office can be made public (even to Parliament) – driving a coach and horses through public accountability. We are seeking to take this case to the House of Lords.
However, very unusually, the High Court judge made strong comments that in his opinion only confidential information should, as a matter of policy, be kept secret (as the BUAV has always argued). This will make it harder for the Home Office to keep the secrecy line indefinitely, emphasising the benefits of using the law to influence political debate.
Using undercover investigation information: when information about animal experiments is obtained via undercover investigations, labs will often try to stop it being made public. For example, a few years ago Covance, a huge multinational company, tried to stop our investigator publishing distressing information about primate suffering at their lab in Germany. The German courts eventually upheld our right to publish the information, on public interest grounds
The battle for hearts and minds: the BUAV and other animal protection organisations are up against massively powerful opponents – not just multinational companies and academic institutions but also, regrettably, governments (including our own) and international institutions and the sections of the media they heavily influence. There are various bodies which regulate aspects of information presentation - such as the Advertising Standards Authority, the Press Complaints Commission, the Market Research Society (opinion polls) – which the BUAV will use wherever appropriate to achieve a fairer climate for debate. In addition, we have successfully used the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (the ombudsman) to complain about Home Office misinformation.
Using legal argument outside litigation: sometimes real progress can be made just by using legal argument, without having to threaten or undertake court or similar proceedings. One important example was when we developed sophisticated arguments about World Trade Organisation law to persuade the European Parliament that - contrary to what the European Commission and several EU member states, including the UK, were arguing – the EU did have the legal power to ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals outside the EU, which it subsequently did.
The last point emphasises the international dimension of much of our legal work, reflecting the fact that animal research is a huge global business. Much of our attention has for that reason to be focused on international bodies such as the EU, the WTO, CITES (covering the international trade in endangered species), the OECD (which deals with the safety testing of chemicals) and the ICH (safety testing of medicines). The law in these areas is often extremely complicated and experience teaches us that we cannot rely on the bodies themselves to make sure that lab animals get even the limited protection they are supposed to.
The legal aspects of the impending revision of the EU directive dealing with lab animals (Directive 86/609) are going to be key, and this is something we have been involved with for several years already.
Formal complaints to the European Commission about the way a member state applies the directive can bring real benefits – an example is our complaint a few years ago about the unlawful use in Belgium of stray cats and dogs.
Amendments to draft legislation: drafting strategically important amendments to draft legislation is a key part of the lobbying process and will feature heavily in the revision of Directive 86/609.
Consultation exercises: the BUAV takes part in numerous consultation exercises, here and in Europe. Deploying legal arguments – alongside the ethical, the scientific and the political – can be very important. Examples are consultations about the cost:benefit test, the Home Office annual statistics and transparency. Linked to this, the BUAV is often asked to give evidence by important bodies such as the House of Lords select committee on animal experiments, the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Again, how the law should be interpreted at present is often key to arguments about how the law or its enforcement.
The right to protest: increasingly, the right to peaceful protest against animal experiments is being diluted. In 2005 we made a legal submission to the influential parliamentary committee on human rights on the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill then going through Parliament. As a result, the committee persuaded the Government to water down its restrictions on anti-vivisection protest, though concerns remain.
Advice to other animal protection organisations: we give legal help to other organisations unable to afford specialist advice, both here and abroad. As a leading global anti-vivisection organisation, the BUAV is keen to use its expertise to help others campaign effectively. We also write articles for legal journals – lawyers are an important audience in the campaign for meaningful change.