'Whitewash' at court of appeal for pesticides campaigner

Spraying pesticides by tractor
A high court ruling on the illegality of the Government's pesticides policy has been overturned despite health complaints

A high court ruling on the illegality of the Government's pesticides policy has been overturned at the court of appeal

Pesticides campaigner Georgina Downs has seen her high court victory against the Government overturned by a court of appeal, but vows to take her campaign to the House of Lords

Georgina Downs has condemned as a ‘whitewash’ the decision by a court of appeal to overturn a high court ruling against the Government for allowing the use of harmful pesticides.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) lodged the appeal following Downs’s court victory last year, the culmination of a three-year legal case on pesticide spraying in the UK.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday, Downs said the ruling ‘may go down in history as being the most bizarre and inaccurate judgement to have ever come out the court of appeal’.

In 1984 the spraying of fields near her home in Chichester, West Sussex, left her suffering flu-like symptoms, headaches and blistered sore throats; she was hospitalised in 1991 with severe muscle wastage and launched the UK Pesticides Campaign in 2001.

Overturning the judgement, court of appeal judge Lord Justice Sullivan said that although Downs ‘genuinely believes that her own, and her family’s health problems have been caused by the exposure to pesticide spraying’, she had no formal scientific or medical qualifications.

In November a high court ruled that what Defra called its ‘reasonable, logical and lawful’ regulations on the use of pesticide contravened an EU directive by failing to protect rural communities from toxic spraying. The judge in that case, Mr Justice Collins, said Downs had presented ‘solid evidence’ about the adverse health effects of spraying, and said he had ‘no doubt’ the Government had been acting unlawfully in its policy and approach to pesticides.

‘When granting the Government permission to appeal the high court ruling, Mr Justice Collins made it clear he did not think an appeal had a real prospect of success,’ Downs said. ‘This would have been based on the assumption that the court of appeal would form its judgement on the very same evidence and arguments that he did.

‘Today’s judgement from the court of appeal, which has overturned Mr Justice Collins’ judgement unanimously, has done so as a result of very wrongly (and possibly intentionally) substituting the cogently argued case I presented [with that] set out in a report four years ago by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.’

Downs began to gather the documentation for her high court case in 2006, with the 149-page witness statement that contained the full factual arguments and evidence of her case taken in 2008. The Royal Commission report was completed in 2005.

Downs now intends to appeal to the House of Lords to uphold the original ruling and overturn what she called ‘a very legally flawed judgement’.

‘In controlling pesticides, the protection of people’s health is our priority,’ said environment secretary Hilary Benn, welcoming the ruling. ‘That is why we are already working to better assess bystander exposure to pesticides so that we can continue to improve our models.’

Read Georgina Downs' statement in full here.

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