Content Header Mask

BUAV Freedom of Information victory over Newcastle University’s controversial monkey tests



The Upper Tribunal has upheld its ruling against Newcastle University following a Freedom of Information request on controversial monkey experiments made by leading animal organisation BUAV. Newcastle University officials had argued that they did not hold information about any of the very large number of animal experiments – including highly invasive experiments on nonhuman primates – carried out at the University. The Information Tribunal previously described these arguments as ‘an affront to common sense’.  

The Upper Tribunal has now upheld a previous decision by the Information Tribunal against Newcastle University: 

(a) the disputed information was held by the University at the time when the Freedom of Information Act request was responded to by the University

(b) that a particular exemption did not apply under the Freedom of Information Act

In June 2008 the BUAV requested information from the University about highly invasive brain experiments on macaques which involved implanting electrodes into the animals’ brains to record activity while they were forced repeatedly to undergo various tasks. Monkeys were forcibly restrained by the head and body, which would cause them a high level of distress.

One of the lead researchers has been refused permission by authorities in Germany for similar primate experiments which were deemed unethical, because the suffering – including repeated body and head restraint and a very severe regime of water deprivation to motivate the monkeys to perform tasks – was too great, particularly given the lack of practical benefit from the experiments. Similarly, the scientific papers published about the Newcastle University primate experiments do not identify any benefit for human health from the research.

The UK Government often claims that its system of regulation of animal experiments is the strictest in the world – a claim roundly rejected by the BUAV. This research represents an opportunity to test the claim. Why are experiments on primates allowed in this country when apparently similar ones are prohibited elsewhere? 

Aside from the ethical issues and lack of benefits to human health, these experiments are also contentious because primates can be replaced by human volunteer studies using non-invasive imaging machines such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. It is supposedly a fundamental principle of UK legislation that animals should not be used where non-animal methods can give the desired information. 

Michelle Thew, BUAV Chief Executive, said: “We are delighted with this ruling. Once again, the courts have dismissed Newcastle’s ludicrous attempts to say they have no information about the thousands of animal experiments taking place at the University. For three years, Newcastle University has tried every which way to avoid providing us with information. These are highly controversial and invasive experiments carried out on monkeys at a public institution. The public has a right to know what is happening to these poor animals”. 

Find out more about our Freedom of Information work