Pig farmers could face hefty legal bill
MAFF has warned pig farmers fighting in court next week for compensation for costs incurred by BSE-related legislation that they could be faced with a bill of tens of thousands of £s if the action fails.
The long-awaited judicial review into farm minister Nick Browns alleged failure to apply for EU state aid as compensation for BSE-related regulations takes place on June 7 and 8 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
If the British Pig Industry Support Group wins its case, it says MAFF will have a "political and moral" obligation to pursue compensation up to the value of £200m with the EU Commission.
But if MAFF wins, it has vowed to try and recover all of its court costs. A MAFF spokesman said it does not believe it would be a proper use of taxpayers money to pay for the case, given the premises it is based on.
He said it would be a matter for the lawyers of both sides to decide how this is done. In earlier correspondence between the two parties lawyers MAFF had sought to secure its costs against the people named on BPISGs affidavit, including BPISG treasurer Meryl Ward and chairman Matthew Atkin
BPISG has raised over £100,000 from the industry towards its own costs, but, according to Mr Atkin, does not have any funds to cover MAFFs costs. These could amount to tens of thousands of £s.
"It would be very difficult politically for the ministry to go ahead and pursue full costs. Not only did a judge in the High Court rule that our case deserved of a full hearing, he granted a fast-track hearing," he said.
He said that to pursue costs in a case that has already been given such strong justification would be very damaging for any Labour MPs dependent on the rural vote.
Mr Atkin said he was "quietly confident" of success in the review, which will be played out mainly by lawyers. The outcome may not be known for some weeks.
BPISG claim Mr Brown has a duty to grant aid to the industry to avoid discriminating against it. But, according to the MAFF spokesman, there is nothing to apply for from the EU as the Commission has told the ministry it does not have grounds for such an application. *