Friday, January 16, 2009

Biowatch versus Monsanto -- appeal for support

Biowatch will be arguing for leave to appeal and appealing the costs orders against the organisation at the South African Constitutional Court on Tuesday, 17 February 2009. The Centre for Child Law and Lawyers for Human Rights are the amici curiae for the appeal which should be the final step in a long legal wrangle over gaining access to information pertaining to the release of Genetically Modified Organisms into the South African food production system and the environment. We invite as many of our friends and supporters, as are able, to attend the Constitutional Court hearings at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg.

The legal wrangle began in 2003 when Biowatch applied to the Pretoria High Court for an order that the Minister of Agriculture and the Registrar for Genetic Resources provide information on the basis for granting permits for genetically modified crops in SA.

Monsanto SA, a producer of genetically modified seeds, joined the court proceedings to oppose the application by Biowatch. The case was heard in 2004 by acting Judge Dunn who in February 2005, ruled that Biowatch should be given access to eight of the eleven categories listed in its request to the government departments. He stated that Biowatch had a constitutional right to the information it requested, that access to the information was in the public interest and that Biowatch had been forced to go to court to get access to the information. However, he supported Monsanto’s argument that Biowatch had cast its requests so widely that Monsanto was forced to go to court to protect its commercial, confidential interests. Judge Dunn ordered Biowatch to pay Monsanto’s legal costs.

A full bench of the Pretoria High Court heard an appeal by Biowatch against the costs order in April 2007 when the organisation argued that the awarding of a costs order against a nongovernmental organisations could have a deterrent effect on future public-interest litigation.

In November 2007, Judges Fanie Mynhardt and Molopo-Sethosa dismissed Biowatch's appeal. However, Judge Justice Poswa, in a minority, dissenting judgment handed down in May 2008, stated that he would have ordered the Department of Agriculture and Monsanto to pay all Biowatch's legal costs.

In September 2008, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed Biowatch's application for leave to appeal against the high court order with costs.

Over 200 individuals and organisations have sent in letters of support to Biowatch

Biowatch email address for letters of support is:

Phone: 021-447-5939

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