National Anti-vivisection Society


National Antivisection Society

Judicial Review, NAVS vs Home Office, blanket confidentiality

Posted: 19 March 2013. Updated: 19 March 2013


The Secrecy Clause

For over a century vivisection has thrived on secrecy and misinformation, with no public accountability.

Section 24 of the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act states: “A person is guilty of an offence if otherwise than for the purpose of discharging his functions under this Act he discloses any information which has been obtained by him in the exercise of those functions and which he knows or has reasonable grounds for believing to have been given in confidence.”

The Home Office used this secrecy clause to institute a policy of blanket confidentiality on the licensing process between 1986 and 1998. All Home Office application forms stated that everything on the form would be treated as confidential.

Having been refused a policy change by the Home Secretary, the NAVS successfully challenged the Home Office policy in 1998, with a Judicial Review in the High Court. We argued that in fact S.24 of the Act did not authorise the Home Secretary to apply such a blanket confidentiality policy, and that discretion must be used. Successive Home Secretaries had overstepped their authority.

The High Court agreed and we were granted a Judicial Review, at which point the Home Office agreed to a change of policy – not just a change to the wording on the forms.

However, Home Office officials wrote to all licensees and applicants to advise that should they require any information to remain confidential, they should write that request on their form.

What we have been asking for in our campaign for freedom of information on animal experiments

Wider scientific and public scrutiny of Project Licence Applications, before the licence is awarded: what is needed is just the technical details of a project licence application so that a non-animal alternative could be suggested, or another source of the information being sought or, in some cases, that the animal experiment design is so poor that it should not be authorised, anyway.

In 2004, the Home Office eventually introduced public ‘non-technical summaries’ of licences already awarded, however these (a) do not allow for a thorough independent scientific review of the animal research described in the Project Licence Application and (b) they are published after the licence has already been granted and therefore there is no opportunity to offer an alternative before animals are used.

That all Freedom of Information Act provisions be applied to the animal experimentation industry, as they are to police, NHS, universities and other sectors.

Freedom of Information Act provisions to protect personal identities and details:

The issue of personal endangerment to scientists does not arise under our proposals because:

  • For the assessment of the need for animal use, it is not necessary for details such as names or locations to be included.
  • The personal details of scientists working on animals are irrelevant and are therefore protected.
  • Scientists using animals regularly publish the results of their work and where they are working, name of the laboratory, names of funding bodies and sometimes, even suppliers of the animals. These journals are available on the internet, public libraries, etc; therefore it is not the Home Office licence application that is likely to be the source of a breach of personal details, but the scientists themselves.
  • Since scientists have already reported feeling threatened, and the Home Office licensing process is confidential, then any information used by those intent on criminal acts is already available.
  • S.38 of the Freedom of Information Act already provides for protection of personal information

Freedom of Information Act provisions to protect commercial confidentiality:

The issue of commercial confidentiality does not arise, because:

  • S.38 of the Freedom of Information Act already provides for protection of confidential information and intellectual property.
  • Details of new compounds are already kept secret during the testing process by use of code numbers for substances within the laboratory, and keeping of confidential client files.
  • As with all other industries where protection of intellectual property and confidential information is necessary, but which are already subject to the Freedom of Information Act, there is no doubt that commercial interests can be protected whilst serving the interests of animal protection and wider scientific scrutiny of the proposed work.

Take action

  • Ask your MP to support repeal of section 24 – find out who your MP / download our template letter – please send us any response you receive
  • Support our work to end animal experiments
  • Take part in our other Lab Animal Week activities

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