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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  June 2009

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE June 2009

Subject:

VICTORY FOR BIOWATCH IN LANDMARK LEGAL CASE

From:

Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 8 Jun 2009 13:10:03 +1200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (74 lines)

VICTORY FOR BIOWATCH IN LANDMARK LEGAL CASE

Johannesburg, 3 June 2009


Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs today handed down judgment 
in the Biowatch case.  Calling the case "a matter of great interest 
to the legal profession, the general public, and bodies concerned 
with public interest litigation", Justice Sachs set aside the costs 
order awarded against Biowatch in favour of Monsanto and further 
awarded legal costs in the High Court hearings in favour of Biowatch 
and against the state.  The bench of eleven judges was unanimous in 
its decision.

Biowatch is a small South African non-governmental organisation 
campaigning in the public interest for sustainable agriculture, 
biodiversity, biosafety and farmers' rights.  For many years it has 
been opposing the rapid spread of genetically modified (GM) crops in 
South African agriculture.  It argues that there are health and 
environmental risks resulting from this technology, and that it 
diminishes food security and food sovereignty.

The judgement in the Constitutional Court was the culmination of a 
nine-year legal battle.  In 2000, the state had consistently refused 
to provide Biowatch with requested official information about the 
planting of GM crops in South Africa.  Biowatch was forced to take 
legal action to exercise its constitutional right to this 
information. In the High Court Biowatch won the right to 8 out of 11 
categories of requested information.  The acting judge, however, felt 
that Monsanto - a giant multinational pushing GM crops onto the South 
African market - had been forced to join the case and that Biowatch 
should therefore pay its legal costs. This anomaly seemed to fly in 
the face of justice, but even so, Biowatch lost its appeal in the 
same court to set aside this costs order. Biowatch was also refused 
leave to appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. 
Exercising the costs order would have weakened if not destroyed 
Biowatch as an organisation, something which Monsanto seemed bent on 
doing.

The Constitutional Court was able to hear the appeal, as the case 
involved constitutional rights. Justice Sachs stated that the High 
Court had "misdirected itself in the whole matter of costs" through 
failing to consider the constitutional implications. This enabled the 
Constitutional Court to pronounce on costs matters in the High Court 
in cases of constitutional import. Normally High Court judges assume 
full discretion in the matter of costs awards. Justice Sachs said 
that the High Court's decision was "demonstrably inappropriate on the 
facts, and unduly chilling to constitutional litigation in its 
consequences."

The case has important implications for South African justice. It 
means that organisations acting in the public interest will be able 
to litigate to gain their rights without necessarily expecting the 
"chilling effect" of costs orders against them. This bodes well for 
public confidence in the South African legal system.

The case clarifies for the legal profession that constitutional 
rights need to be taken into account when costs orders are made. The 
Biowatch case is already being discussed widely in legal circles.

"This verdict is a victory for Biowatch but also sets an important 
precedent for all those promoting the public interest", said Rose 
Williams, Biowatch's director. "Biowatch activities can now continue 
without the threat of Monsanto putting an end to them. We wish to 
thank the many hundreds of individuals and organisations who have 
supported us during the course of the case, as well as the Legal 
Resources Centre for representing us so ably."

Please see the Biowatch website for further background at 
www.biowatch.org.za <http://www.biowatch.org.za/>

For further information on the case, telephone Biowatch director Rose 
Williams on +27 82 4355812

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