22 March 2002

Battle for F&M inquiry suffers severe setback

By Mike Stones

WANTED: Wealthy people to pay for a legal challenge to the High Court verdict that the government acted properly in rejecting a public inquiry into foot-and-mouth.

Despite the ruling delivered last Friday (Mar 15) following a four-day judicial review in February, law specialist Tim Russ believes there are grounds for an appeal – provided funds could be found.

"We need about £100,000 to pay for an appeal," said Mr Russ, of West Country law firm Clarke Willmott Clarke which helped to win the judicial review (News, Feb 22).

"The key issues of our case, lack of impartiality by the Lessons Learned Inquiry, irrationality of the decision not hold a public inquiry and infringement of human rights, are still valid," he said.

But without funds, legal moves are impossible, said Mr Russ, who along with barrister Richard Lissack QC conducted the action on a no-win no-fee basis. "My firm has lost about £100,000 and I cant afford to take it on without payment."

Despite the verdict, Mr Russ noted support for the farmers case. "The judgement included coded criticism that the Lessons Learned Inquiry was to be heard in private.

"But it was a timorous judgement by someone who did not want to take on the government."

Devon farmer and claimant Robert Persey was equally scathing. "The future of British agriculture was dismissed in three minutes. Justice is expensive."

Costs, estimated at up to £160,000, were awarded against the claimants together with media organisations, including the BBC, which intervened to supply evidence.

Following Lord Justice Simon Browns delivery of the judgement, the claimants were given 28 days to lodge an appeal.

Permission would have to sought from the Court of Appeal and, if successful, an appeal would be heard before three Lords Justice of Appeal at the High Court.

Should that fail, a final hearing before five law lords in the House of Commons could be sought.

The other two law firms involved in the judicial review, Gabb and Co and Burges Salmon, were unwilling to comment.

&#8226 If you would like to help fund an appeal, please contact Tim Russ (01823-445218). &#42

See page 16 for claimants reaction to the High Court verdict.

THEVERDICT

Lord Justice Simon Brown said…

"…In dismissing these applications (for a judicial review), the court does not give the impression that it itself regards the decision to hold the Lessons Learned Inquiry in closed session as necessarily the "right" decision. The question for the court is not whether the decision is right or wrong, wise or unwise."

"It is to my mind pre-eminently a political decision and one for which the government will have to answer at the ballot box."

"…Though I have considerable sympathy with the claimants in their desire to have a full public investigation into the way in which the foot-and-mouth outbreak was handled, I have reached the conclusion that the defendants (governments) decision was a lawful one with which we cannot interfere."