Government loses High Court vivisection case

Posted on the 27th July 2007

The High Court in London has ruled that the government has been underplaying the severity of suffering experienced by animals in laboratory experiments.

The highly significant judgment came in response to a legal challenge by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) to the Home Office over the way it categorises different types of ‘procedures’. BUAV Chief Executive, Michelle Thew, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that the judgment went to the heart of the so-called cost-benefit test that is supposed to be strictly applied before a licence is granted to a researcher. If the severity is classed as ‘moderate’ rather than ‘substantial’ then the professed ‘benefits’ to human medicine need be less than if the animals are subjected to greater trauma.

Michelle Thew told PM that the court ruling should mean that more prospective experiments will, in future, be classed as substantial and consequently more should fail the cost-benefit test. The result will be that fewer experiments should be authorised.

The case arose out of a ten-month undercover investigation conducted in 2000-2001 by the BUAV into monkey brain research carried out at Cambridge University and which the Home Office had categorised as of ‘moderate’ severity. The campaign group documented the fate of hundreds of marmosets who were incarcerated inside small, barren cages for their entire lives. As a result of their brain surgery, the animals suffered bleeding head wounds, fits, vomiting, severe bruising, whole body tremors and mental and physical disabilities. Before the damage was deliberately inflicted, they were made to learn tedious and repetitive tasks. Afterwards came more ‘tests’. These included being shut in tiny boxes, being administered potent stimulant drugs, and being denied food and water in order to coerce them into ‘better’ test performances.

Some of the damaged monkeys had been left unattended for 15 or more hours after their invasive surgery.

Despite such suffering, the Home Office has argued that the experiments were correctly licensed as being of ‘moderate’ severity, rather than ‘substantial’ and that the animals were afforded proper protection under the law. The Government plans to appeal the July 27 High Court ruling.

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