UK Government accused of ‘secretly abandoning’ animal testing ban for cosmetics
The Government is facing a High Court challenge over allegations it “secretly” abandoned a more than two-decade-old ban on testing cosmetic product ingredients on animals.
Cruelty Free International (CFI) is bringing a claim against Home Secretary Priti Patel, accusing her of leaving the public “in blissful ignorance” that her department’s long-standing policy apparently changed after February 2019.
The animal welfare organisation alleges Ms Patel has been “willing to grant licences for animal testing of cosmetic ingredients” and argues the “weakening” of a policy ban first announced in 1998 “cannot be lawful”.
On Thursday, following a short hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mrs Justice Steyn granted permission for the anti-vivisection group to bring further legal arguments against the Government.
Failure to consult
Alan Bates, representing CFI, said in written submissions that this included the allegation that there had been a “failure to consult [CFI] and/or the public before abandoning/weakening the policy ban”.
CFI also claims there was a “failure to inform [CFI] and/or the public that the policy ban was no longer being applied, whether in the same way or at all, with the result that [CFI] and the public remained unaware of the change in policy for around two and a half years”.
The Home Secretary was not represented at Thursday’s hearing but is understood to be opposing the claim.
In his written submissions, Mr Bates said the Home Office previously “trumpeted” its “policy ban” of not granting project licences for animal testing of substances used as ingredients in cosmetics.
“Accordingly, since 1998 the Home Office has not been troubled by campaigns to stop animal testing of cosmetic ingredients,” Mr Bates said.
“Nor was there public criticism of home secretaries for granting licences for such animal testing.”
Mr Bates said that it emerged from a letter sent in August last year on behalf of Ms Patel that the Home Secretary had “quietly abandoned – or at least significantly weakened – the policy ban, and/or has not been following that policy”.
“This change occurred in secret,” Mr Bates said, adding that CFI, other animal protection organisations and the public were not consulted by the Home Secretary over “whether she should abandon/weaken the policy ban”.
He said the Home Secretary did “engage with operators of animal testing establishments, by way of ‘conversations’, apparently without writing anything down” and that operators were informed by officials “verbally” of the adoption of the “new policy”.
Mr Bates said there had been “no relevant public announcement” and no “relevant modification” to policy documents published by the Home Office.
He said this meant there was a “mismatch” between published policies on the Home Secretary’s approach to licence applications and “the way that she is actually approaching her decision-making”.
The CFI barrister said the Home Secretary’s position is that she was “not acting unlawfully by ceasing to apply the policy ban after February 2019” and was not “legally obliged to consult before abandoning or modifying her position”.
Thursday’s hearing comes after a different judge granted CFI permission to apply for judicial review based on two other legal arguments.
Campaigners claim the Home Secretary was issuing licences for animal testing by relying on assessments from regulators that they were “scientifically necessary” rather than carrying out a broader “harm: benefit” assessment that includes the “societal utility” of a substance or product.
They also argue the Home Secretary has an “erroneous legal understanding” of retained EU legislation relating to cosmetics and their safety.
A two-day High Court hearing in the case is expected to be held at a later date.
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