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Judicial Review: Live Calf Exports

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We're fighting live calf exports in court

The UK is rapidly approaching a defining moment in its history. From 1 Jan 2021, EU rules will no longer apply in the UK.

As the UK rewrites its entire rulebook, we stand firm in demanding a better future for farm animals – one without cruel live exports, which the UK Government has repeatedly said it will abolish.

That’s why, with the support of campaigners worldwide, we’ve ramped up our campaign to ban live exports this year: we’ve taken the fight to court. In February, we launched a Judicial Review of live calf exports. The Scottish Government has chosen to oppose our case – with the shameful backing of the UK Government.

With the court hearing set for 8th-9th October, this is a crucial moment for us to pile the pressure on UK decision makers to stand down their despicable defence of this cruel trade. Read on to discover more about our Judicial Review, and how you can help deliver #JusticeForCalves.

What is a Judicial Review?

A Judicial Review is a type of court case that allows people to challenge the lawfulness of the actions of a public body. A judge will decide whether said actions are lawful and can choose to issue a declaration, order, or award.

In this instance, Compassion has launched a Judicial Review against the Scottish Government and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) for permitting the transport of unweaned calves on export journeys longer than eight hours.

Calf in transport truck looking out

What’s our case based on?

Under UK and EU law, journeys over eight hours for unweaned calves are not permitted unless, after nine hours of travel, they receive a one-hour break for rest, water and, “if necessary”, food. As far as we're aware, there is no legal definition for what constitutes “necessary”. Our case revolves around the question of whether it is “necessary” for calves to be fed in order for them to be transported for more than eight hours.

For unweaned calves, during transit, food is provided in the form of milk replacer. It's widely recognised – even by the Scottish Government – that milk replacer cannot be provided on the trucks and that the calves can therefore only be fed when unloaded at an appropriate facility. In practice, for calves exported from Scotland, the first time they are unloaded at such a facility is in Northern France – which means they can go up to 23 hours without food.

Since, under current practices, calves are not unloaded at the required rest stop after nine hours of travel and end up travelling far more than nine hours without food, we argue that journeys over eight hours for unweaned calves are unlawful and should not be allowed to take place.

What’s our aim?

Our aim is to secure a court ruling that, since these journeys are breaching EU law, it is unlawful for the Scottish Government to permit the export of unweaned calves on journeys exceeding eight hours.

What happens if we win?

If we win, it would be impossible for UK exports of unweaned calves to continue in their current form, which could spare thousands of calves from unnecessary suffering each year.

The Scottish Government and APHA could no longer approve journey logs for the export of unweaned calves on journeys over eight hours unless the exporter had made arrangements to ensure that, after nine hours travel, all the calves would be unloaded so that they could be fed milk replacer.

Plus, since EU and UK law on live exports are identical, a victory could even trigger similar legal action across Europe and bring the long distance transport of calves to an end in many countries.

Even if we lose, the case – the first Judicial Review that we have sought for over a decade – will highlight the current practice and force both Scottish and UK Governments to confront the contradiction with the UK Government’s stated wish to bring the trade to an end.

What's happened so far?

  • October 2019: Compassion in World Farming writes to Ms Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, explaining that current practices are in breach and that journey logs therefore should not be approved.
  • November 2019: Mairi Gougeon replies to our letter, saying it is “not practical to provide feed in the form of liquid milk replacement to a load of calves on a lorry.”
  • January 2020: we reply to Mairi Gougeon’s letter, explaining we are not satisfied with her response and are considering legal action. The Scottish Government does not respond to our letter.
  • February 2020: Compassion launches judicial review proceedings against the Scottish Government.
  • May 2020: the Scottish Court grants Compassion permission to proceed with the case and schedules the hearing for 4th August.
  • June 2020: The Scottish Government applies for an indefinite delay to the case, on the grounds that they would be reviewing the practice based on recommendations from the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (which were published in April). The Scottish Court rejects the application. The hearing is then scheduled to take place over two days – likely 8th-9th October.
  • August 2020: the Scottish Government submits a 48-page dossier to the Court, with an expert opinion disagreeing with both Compassion’s case and the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s report – which the Scottish Government had previously welcomed. 

How are the UK and Scottish Governments involved?

The Scottish Government doesn’t object to the live export trade in calves and, as such, are unlikely to introduce any legislation banning live exports themselves from Scotland.

Given its stance on live exports, it’s not altogether surprising that the Scottish Government is opposing our Judicial Review. Scottish Minister Mairi Gougeon has even suggested (in a written response to Compassion) that the fact it "is not practical" to feed calves on the trucks is a justification for current practices continuing unchanged – rather than an argument for the journeys being stopped.

However, we, alongside thousands of supporters, refuse to stand for this, and are lobbying the Scottish Government to stop opposing our case.

Despite repeated statements from the UK Government that once we leave the EU we “can” end live exports, and a manifesto commitment to “end excessively long journeys for fattening and slaughter”, Defra (acting on behalf of APHA) has appointed a lawyer to fight against our case, thereby defending the trade. The UK Government is therefore taking legal steps to protect a trade it claims to want to end.

That’s why, with the help of campaigners worldwide, we’ve been lobbying Defra to stop backing the Scottish Government in defending live exports in court. 

It's worth noting that animal welfare is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, whereas trade is reserved to Westminster. Therefore, the UK Government could implement a ban on the live export trade to cover the entirety of the UK – and it has previously said that any ban would need to do so.

Keep an eye on this page - and your inbox - for all the latest updates on this landmark case.

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