24 February 2000
Live exporter wins court challenge

By FWi staff

BRITAINS biggest livestock haulier is to go the European Court of Justice after the Ministry of Agriculture refused to extend rules regulating animal exports.

F Machin and Sons claims hundreds of sheep are needlessly suffering because MAFF is refusing to lengthen the 14-hour time limit which restricts journeys.

Machins is in a quandary because it wants to export hundreds of sheep from its base at Brandsby, York, to La Vergne, near Bourges, in Central France.

But the last leg of the journey to the continent takes 14 hours and 47 minutes, Mr Justice Moses was told at Londons High Court.

The rules mean Machins are obliged to unload the sheep just 47 minutes short of their destination, and rest them for 24 hours before they can be re-embarked.

Referring the case for consideration by the European Court of Justice, Mr Justice Moses said the issues raised were of “fundamental importance.”

At the centre of the case are MAFF rules based on a European law directive which limit journey times for livestock to 14 hours without rest periods.

The companys counsel, Mr Tim Eicke, said the resultant unloading and re-loading achieved nothing but unnecessary stress and suffering for the sheep.

Regulations allow for a two-hour extension to the 14-hour transit time limit, but only in “exceptional circumstances” arising from unusual circumstances.

After a day of legal argument, the judge accepted the case raised important issues of law suitable for consideration by the European Court of Justice.

But he added that, had he decided the case himself, he would have found in favour of the Ministry and dismissed Machins judicial review challenge.

The European directive was clear, and it would “not be open” to MAFF officials to approve the extension of journey time sought by Machins.

The problem faced by the company was of the sort which “may always arise where you have some form of cut-off point,” Justice Moses added.

He said: “Although I have indicated my views, I am not so confident that the outcome is correct that I think it right that I should finally decide this matter.”

The arguments put forward by MAFFs counsel, Mr Mark Hoskins, were not “so compelling as to obviate the need for a reference,” he said.

“In these circumstances, I shall refer this matter for the opinion of the European Court of Justice,” he concluded.