Judge upholds badger cull plan to tackle TB

Friday 16 April 2010 13:10

Controversial plans to carry out a mass cull of badgers as part of efforts to control bovine TB in Wales were upheld today.

A legal challenge aimed at overturning an order making the cull possible in west Wales has failed.

The Badger Trust turned to the courts last month to instigate a judicial review of the Welsh Assembly Government decision to approve the cull.

Rock star Brian May was among a mass of protesters who backed the animal charity's opposition and spoke out publicly against the plan.

He spoke of his disappointment at the decision today but warned the battle to overturn the TB Eradication Order (Wales) 2009 will continue.

"This is a disappointment, of course. But not just for thousands of innocent badgers," he said.

"The irony is that it is ultimately a tragedy for farmers too - the very farmers who have been pushing for badgers to be culled.

"The decision to cull cannot lead to any significant long-term gain in the fight against bovine TB, even with the complete extermination of our native badgers."

He added: "I believe all this will be seen in a few years time for what it is... a tragic wrong turn which did nothing to solve the problem of TB in cattle.

"For the sake of all involved, we will not be giving up the fight for what is right. We are taking advice on appealing at a higher level."

The judgment today came after a two-day hearing before Justice Lloyd Jones at the Swansea Civil Justice Centre last month.

The hearing heard arguments on both sides but was also held to judge whether or not a judicial review would be granted.

Sitting at the Cardiff Civil Justice Centre today, Justice Lloyd Jones said he granted permission to apply for a judicial review, which he then went on to refuse.

The full grounds upon which he based his decision are contained in a 42-page document which was handed out at the venue in Cardiff today.

It lists the four specific grounds put forward by lawyers for the Badgers Trust to contest the granting of last year's order.

Each one is listed in the document and looked at in depth before being dismissed by Justice Lloyd Jones.

The grounds take the form of four specific points which criticise the way Wales Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones came to her decision.

She had previously said that bovine TB was out of control in Wales and cost taxpayers close to £24 million in compensation to farmers in 2009.

The lawyers argued that she had unlawfully failed in certain areas of her responsibility in taking the decision, which called it into question.

The decision today was warmly welcomed by Welsh Assembly Government.

"The Welsh Assembly Government has successfully defended its decision to implement a limited badger cull in west Wales," a spokesman said.

"The High Court has decided that the TB Eradication Order is lawful.

Reacting to the verdict, Wales' Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones, said: "We welcome the Court's decision.

"Bovine TB is one of the biggest problems facing cattle farmers across Wales, and we have to tackle all sources of the disease.

"We are dealing with an epidemic that has serious consequences for us all and we must stamp it out.

"Over the past three years, with advice from experts, we have put in place a comprehensive programme to eradicate TB across Wales.

"This includes more testing of cattle, identifying and getting rid of the disease in cattle at an earlier stage and improving on farm practices.

"We need to read and digest this verdict. In the meantime, we will continue with the preparations in the pilot area."

A spokesman for the Badger Trust said: "Whilst the Badger Trust is disappointed with the outcome, it welcomes the close scrutiny to which the court subjected the Minister's reasoning.

"Serious issues have come to light in the course of these proceedings which now need to be grappled with at a political level."

David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust, said: "Whilst we are disappointed that, although permission was granted, the Minister's Order was not quashed, this was not a simple case about winning or losing.

"Important issues emerged in these proceedings, which ought to give the Minister serious cause for thought before proceeding with any cull.

"We hope that compassion and sense will prevail in light of the latest evidence. Meanwhile, we will carefully consider appealing the judgment."

But support for the decision today came from the British Veterinary Association and the British Cattle Veterinary Association.

Professor Bill Reilly, President of the British Veterinary Association, said: "The BVA and BCVA welcome the outcome of the Judicial Review which means that the Welsh Assembly Government's important work to control and eradicate bovine tuberculosis can go ahead.

"This is a highly emotive issue and we understand that many people will be disappointed with the decision, but it is essential that a wide range of measures are employed to tackle this devastating disease and we believe that should include a targeted cull of badgers."

John Blackwell, Senior Vice President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA), added: "We have strongly supported the Welsh Assembly Government's TB Eradication Order because it combines strong measures to tackle the disease in both cattle and wildlife.

"We are therefore pleased that the court has declared the Order is lawful.

"We will be watching the outcomes of the measures in Wales under the Order closely and hope that, if successful, these measures will be replicated in other areas of the UK."

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