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Date set for Biowatch South Africa's appeal against court costs order

A full bench will hear Biowatch South Africa's appeal against a court order that it pays Monsanto South Africa legal costs on 23 April 2007 in the Pretoria High Court.

The Legal Resources Centre is acting on Biowatch South Africa's behalf in the appeal.

The costs order being appealed arose out of Biowatch South Africa's successful application to the Pretoria High Court for access to information about how decisions are made in the permitting of genetically modified (GM) crops in South Africa.

In February 2005 acting Judge Eric Dunn ordered that Biowatch South Africa be granted access to almost all the information it had requested. Judge Dunn reaffirmed that:

  • Biowatch South Africa had a constitutional right to this information.
  • Access to the information was in the public interest.
  • Biowatch South Africa had been forced to apply to the court to exercise this right.

Judge Dunn also said that:

  • Granting access to this information was a necessary part of the proper administration of the Genetically Modified Organisms Act;
  • The Registrar of Genetic Resources had adopted a passive role in assisting Biowatch with gaining access to the information it had sought.

But instead of applying the general principle that costs should follow the result of litigation, Judge Dunn ordered Biowatch South Africa to pay the legal costs of Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd. His reason: Biowatch South Africa had been too general in its request for information and this had forced Monsanto South Africa to come to court to protect its interests. Judge Dunn made no other costs orders.

Biowatch South Africa is appealing the costs order for the following main reasons:

  • The costs order is likely to have a deterrent effect on future public interest litigation because it creates the impression that if any part of a request for information is found to be insufficiently specific, even a successful litigant may be heavily penalised.
  • There is no order for payment of Biowatch South Africa's legal costs, even though the organisation was successful in its application to the court and the court found that Biowatch South Africa had been forced to apply to it for access to the information to which it was entitled.

Monsanto South Africa (Pty) Ltd was the only respondent to insist, right to the end, that Biowatch South Africa should bear its legal costs.

To read more, please go to www.biowatch.org.za and look under DOCUMENTS.

For more information, please contact Leslie Liddell, Biowatch SA director, on 021 447 5939 or 073 307 8873.

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