Secret badger cull policy papers to be published

Secret documents about discussions between the NFU and government officials about the decision to press ahead with the badger cull trials are set to be made public.

Following a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the tribunal indicated that it was not convinced by Defra’s arguments to withhold documents relating to badger culling policy data from 2010.

The documents concern the involvement of the NFU on a secret project board set up to explore essential aspects of the government policy.

See also: Date set for badger cull judicial review

They were subject to a Freedom of Information request by the Badger Trust in May 2012.

According to the Badger Trust, Defra had refused to disclose the Risk and Issue Logs (RILs), which demonstrated the board’s “hidden assessment” of the risks associated with a farmer-led badger cull policy, prior to former Defra secretary Owen Paterson’s decision to introduce the policy.

In June 2013, the Information Commissioner ordered Defra to disclose the RILs, finding that the public interest test favoured disclosure.

Defra appealed to the First-tier Tribunal and the case was exceptionally transferred directly to the Upper Tribunal where it was defended by the Information Commissioner together with the Badger Trust.

Judge Mr Justice Charles, who led the three-member tribunal, concluded that it was “unpersuaded” by Defra’s attempts to avoid disclosure of RILs prepared by the Badger Control Project Board in the run-up to the government’s decision to begin the pilot culls.

A full judgment will be handed down in due course.

The Badger Trust said the tribunal’s decision would assist other non-governmental organisations such as themselves to ensure “greater transparency and scrutiny of controversial environmental decision-making within government”.

The second year of the pilot badger culls, as part of government plans to eradicate bovine TB in this country, are due to start in Somerset and Gloucestershire in the late summer/early autumn.

A Defra spokeswoman said the government’s badger control policy had come under significant public scrutiny in the past, being subject to two public consultations held in 2010 and 2011.

The spokeswoman added: “We will carefully consider our position once we receive the judgment.”