high stakes on biowatch appeal

Submitted by turbosprout on Thu, 2007-04-19 18:05

Will Biowatch succeed in it's appeal against the court costs order or will democracy and consumer advocacy in South Africa be dealt an expensive blow?

There is a lot at stake here, so please read the rest of this and support Biowatch on Monday 23rd April!

The story so far, in fast forward. (Sources: GMWatch, SafeAge and Biowatch)

1997 – first GM crops are commercially released in South Africa.

Dec 1999 – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Act comes into operation.

pretoria high courtpretoria high courtJul 2000 - Biowatch makes requests for information about how decisions to allow GM crops are made. The organisation makes further requests on another three occasions up to February 2001 but receives inadequate responses from the Registrar of Genetic Resources. The information requested included:

· access to a selection of risk assessments;
· information on legislation governing field trial licences before the implementation of the GMO Act;
· an update on what permits had been granted;
· permission to inspect permits granted;
· permission to inspect records regarding compliance with public participation provisions of the GMO Act;
· details about pending applications for permits for GM crops, exact coordinates of field trials and crops approved for commercial release.

Aug 2002 – Biowatch serves court papers on the Department of Agriculture, naming the Registrar for Genetic Resources, the Executive Council for Genetic Resources and the Minister of Agriculture as respondents.

Feb 2003 – Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd, along with two companies that distribute Monsanto seed, apply to join the court proceedings as co-respondents, on the grounds that they have a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the proceedings. The Open Democracy Advice Centre joins proceedings as a friend of the court to advance arguments in support of Biowatch's constitutional right of access to information.

May 2004 – the case is heard in the Pretoria High Court.

24 Feb 2005 – Acting Judge Eric Dunn delivers the judgement. He orders that Biowatch South Africa be granted access to almost all the information it had requested. Specifically, Judge Dunn reaffirmed that:
· Biowatch South Africa had a constitutional right to this information.
· Access to the information was in the public interest.
· Biowatch South Africa had been forced to apply to the court to exercise this right.

Judge Dunn also said that:
· Granting access to this information was a necessary part of the proper administration of the Genetically Modified Organisms Act;
· The Registrar of Genetic Resources had adopted a passive role in assisting Biowatch with gaining access to the information it had sought.

But, obscurely, instead of applying the general principle that costs should follow the result of litigation, Judge Dunn ordered Biowatch South Africa to pay the legal costs of Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd. His reason: Biowatch South Africa had been too general in its request for information and this had forced Monsanto South Africa to come to court to protect its interests. Judge Dunn made no other costs orders.

23 June 2005 – Biowatch is granted permission to appeal the costs order.

13 Oct 2006 – Appeal date scheduled for 23 April 2007.

23 Apr 2007 - What will the outcome be in the Pretoria High Court?