Information commission orders universities to release animal experiments information in landmark ruling

19/04/2009

In a landmark ruling, the Information Commissioner’s Office has ordered 6 top universities to release information about the animal experiments they conduct.

In July 2006, the BUAV asked a number of universities to disclose, under the Freedom of Information Act, the number of primates they had used in experiments in two particular years and for a summary of their current primate research. Universities are public authorities for the purpose of the Act. A number of universities complied with the request but 6 – Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, King’s College London, Manchester and Nottingham – refused to do so.

They argued that disclosing the information would be likely to endanger the safety of the researchers and others. Oxford and King’s also argued that disclosure would prejudice their commercial interests.

After a thorough investigation, the Commissioner has now rejected the universities’ arguments.  The Commissioner believes it’s not sufficient to say that, due to the actions of a tiny minority of activists, there may be some general risk to the safety of individuals involved in animal research. The universities ran numerous arguments claiming that disclosing the requested information would have this effect, but the Commissioner robustly rejected them.

The Commissioner was particularly influenced by the fact that researchers at each of the universities had published articles about their primate work. Oxford researchers, for example, had published 82 articles since 2001, and Cambridge researchers 34. Any risk to personal safety had therefore been voluntarily assumed by the researchers themselves and would not be increased by disclosing the information requested by the BUAV.

Similarly, the Commissioner ruled that Oxford and King’s had failed to show that their commercial interests would be prejudiced in any way by disclosing the requested information.  Again, they admitted to carrying out primate research and had published their work extensively were telling factors.