1.Court decision on Biowatch costs
GM WATCH comment: This is a total farce. Biowatch acts in the public interest, wins the right to information that should have been made public in the first place, but are then ordered to pay Monsanto's ruinous costs!
1.FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Pretoria High Court today handed down judgement in Biowatch's costs appeal.
The appeal was dismissed and Biowatch was ordered to pay the legal costs of the Minister of Agriculture, the Registrar Genetic Resources, the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms and Monsanto South Africa.
Biowatch is clearly taken aback by this judgement, but vows to continue playing a watchdog role and to continue fighting for the public's constitutional right to know and more importantly, to choose.
Biowatch South Africa's appeal on 23 April 2007 before judges Mynhardt, Poswa and Molopa was for a withdrawal of the order that it pay the legal costs of Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd and for the statutory bodies to be ordered to pay Biowatch's legal costs.
In the costs appeal judgement, signed by judges Mynhardt and Molopa, it is acknowledged that Biowatch, in its initial approach to the courts for access to information about the permitting of GM crops, had acted in the public interest, had been substantially successful in obtaining the relief it had sought and had been forced to go to court to get this relief.
Biowatch and its legal counsel are studying the judgement, and will make a decision about how to proceed in due course. To read the judgement go to www.biowatch.org.za.
For more information please contact director, Leslie Liddell on 021 447 5939 or 073 307 8873.
2.BACKGROUND TO THE CASE
In 1997, the first genetically modified (GM) crops are commercially released in South Africa.
In December 1999, the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Act comes into operation.
In July 2000, Biowatch South Africa makes its first request for information about how permitting decisions for GM crops are made. The organisation makes further requests on another three occasions up to February 2001 but receives inadequate responses from the Registrar. 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.
In August 2002, Biowatch South Africa 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.
In February 2003, Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd applies to join the court proceedings as a co-respondent, on the grounds that they have a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the proceedings. Two other companies – Stoneville Pedigreed and Delta and Pine Land - which distribute Monsanto GM seed also apply to join the proceedings as co-respondents, opposing Biowatch South Africa's application. The Open Democracy Advice Centre joins proceedings as a friend of the court to advance arguments in support of Biowatch South Africa’s constitutional right of access to information.
In May 2004, the case for access to information is heard in the Pretoria High Court.
On 24 February 2005, Acting Judge Eric Dunn hands down his order. Biowatch wins the right to the information, but are ordered to pay Monsanto's costs.
One 23 June 2005, Biowatch is granted leave to appeal the costs order.
On 13 October 2006, Biowatch is informed that April 23 2007 is the date on which a full bench of the Pretoria High Court will hear the appeal.
On 23 April 2007, the appeal case is heard by a full bench of the Pretoria High Court.
For more information, please contact Leslie Liddell, Biowatch South Africa director, on 021 447 5939 or 073 307 8873.
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