A few years ago, the BUAV judicially reviewed the Home Office because of the way they were applying the ‘Three Rs’ principle; the principle under which an animal experiment is not permitted if the scientific objective could as easily be obtained without using any animals, using fewer than proposed or causing less suffering.
In order to protect UK companies, the Home Office was allowing certain animal experiments to continue even though it accepted an alternative involving less suffering existed. The Home Office refused to bring other, very painful experiments to an end even though it accepted there was now a perfectly adequate non-animal replacement for them, because it would be administratively inconvenient for it to do so until 5 year licences ran out.
Just before the court hearing, the Home Office backed down on both aspects.
Our undercover investigation into brain research on marmosets at Cambridge University received huge publicity – in the UK and around the world. The shocking footage we produced provided extensive evidence about how the Home Office was regulating these and other experiments. We were advised that there was strong evidence of unlawful regulation which should be brought before the court.
It emerged during the case that the Home Office only categorised the suffering caused by an experiment as ‘substantial’ if the suffering was at the very top end of permitted experiments, rather than simply asking whether it involved a ‘major departure from an animal’s usual state of health or well-being’ – the correct approach, according to the court.
This has potentially very important implications for the cost:benefit assessment which has to be made before a licence can be granted, and to the availability of honest information for the public from government statistics. The court also rejected the Home Office argument that the fact that an animal might die earlier than intended was irrelevant to the assessment of suffering.
The High Court judge also said that the Home Office was clearly wrong to say that none of the Cambridge experiments caused ‘substantial’ suffering, although the Court of Appeal thought it appropriate to leave this to Home Office inspectors. Regrettably, neither court was willing to look closely at the post-operative care arrangements for the marmosets – where animals were left for up to 15 hours immediately after operations to their brains, with all-too predictable results.
As a result of the case, the BUAV is pursuing with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Home Office guidance those bodies have issued about 24 hour emergency care for lab animals, which is clearly not followed in practice.
Sometimes, the Government backs down without our needing to go to court. A few years ago, it conceded, directly as a result of our legal arguments, that it should cease licensing the notorious oral ‘Lethal Dose 50 Experiments’ – under which substances are given to animals in sufficient quantity to kill half of them.