High Court success turns the spotlight back onto Vets disciplinary procedures.
A North Devon farmers long-running legal battle against DEFRA came to a conclusion in the High Court on Monday. The case, which was distinct from arguments about the legality of the contiguous cull, centred on the legality of Veterinary Inspectors working for DEFRA and serving a Form A on contiguous premises. The farmer had argued that where this was done in accordance with a mandatory Emergency Instruction, and there had been no specific veterinary risk assessment, there could be no reasonable grounds to suppose that disease existed on his premises and the service of Form A was unlawful.
On Monday, in the third High Court hearing this year in which the farmer had represented himself, DEFRA finally accepted, prior to the full Judicial Review of the issues which was to be heard by Mr Justice Maurice Kay, that the service of the Form A on the farmers premises had been 'in error'.
In an agreement between the parties, approved by the Judge, DEFRA also agreed to pay the farmers reasonable costs in pursuing the litigation. Whilst the acceptance of the 'error' related to this farmers specific case, it has much wider implications for the veterinary profession.
The same farmer had, on Friday, agreed to discontinue separate Judicial Review proceedings against The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons after reaching agreement with their solicitors that the Preliminary Investigation Committee of the RCVS would, following judgement in his case against DEFRA, re-consider all his complaints against the Temporary Veterinary Inspector who had served the Form A.
The PIC had, in January this year, concluded that although the farmer might be able to show that there were no reasonable grounds to suppose that disease existed on his premises, the complaint ought not to proceed to the Disciplinary Committee because the Vet was acting in accordance with DEFRA policy.
Now, in the light of DEFRA's admission in Court, the PIC will re-consider the matter in the absence of Roger Eddy, the former President of the RCVS, who was largely responsible for issuing guidance to Vets regarding the signing of Form A during the epidemic.
In the agreement between the RCVS and the farmer, which was referred to in Court on Monday, another PIC member who had worked as a TVI for DEFRA, also agreed not to take part in the re-consideration of the complaints. The RCVS's solicitors will be on hand to give Committee members legal advice during the meeting which will, as usual, be held in private.
The RCVS now has another opportunity to put their house in order. Should they continue not to confront the ethical problems exposed in the conduct of Vets during the epidemic, the farmer has said that further Court action cannot be ruled out.
October 22 2002