It's been a fantastic week for Wise Women environmental campaigners in the London courts. Georgina Downs, founder of UK Pesticides Campaign, scored gold with her landmark victory against the government in her long-running legal battle over the use of pesticides and Tamsin Ormond, founder of Climate Rush, received a conditional discharge for scaling the roof of Parliament (charge: criminal trespass of a protected site).
Both important rulings and both examples of the tide of change towards recognition of the importance of fighting against pollution. For Georgina it is her fight against the use of pesticides and crop spraying, for Tamsin her fight against airport expansion and escalation of aviation emissions. Whilst Georgina took the government to court, Tamsin was taken to court - but the net result was the same: both had taken direct action to prevent environmental injustice.
The high court ruled on Friday that Georgina Downs had produced "solid evidence" that people exposed to chemicals used to spray crops had suffered harm. Defra's (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) argument that the use and control of pesticides was "reasonable, logical and lawful" was rejected. The court said the government had failed to comply with a European directive designed to protect rural communities from exposure to the toxins. It said Defra must reassess its policy and investigate the risks to people who are exposed.
For Georgina, who this is the culmination of a 7 year campaign. Living on the edge of farmland near Chichester, West Sussex, Georgina was first exposed to pesticide spraying at the age of 11, as a result suffering extensive and long-term injury to her health. Mr Justice Collins upheld her evidence as compelling.
Georgina successfully argued that the government had failed to address the concerns of people living in the countryside "who are repeatedly exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals throughout every year, and in many cases, like mine, for decades". People are not given prior notification about what was to be sprayed near their homes and gardens (and yet those who are spraying must wear protective clothes and masks).
In his ruling, Mr Justice Collins highlighted that the 1986 Control of Pesticides Regulations states that beekeepers must be given 48 hours notice if pesticides harmful to bees are to be used. The judge said: "It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position."
Georgina called for more recognition of what she rightly terms as "one of the biggest public health scandals of our time". She called on Gordon Brown to block any Defra appeal. "The government "should now just admit that it got it wrong, apologise and actually get on with protecting the health and citizens of this country".
The case centred on the way the government assesses the risk posed by pesticides. The current method is based on occasional, short-term exposure to a "bystander" and assumes that individuals would be exposed to an individual pesticide during a single pass.
Mr Justice Collins agreed with Georgina's long-standing charge that "this bystander model does not and cannot address residents who are repeatedly exposed". The model does not account for rural residents exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals "throughout every year and, in many cases like my own, for decades".
As Georgina pointed out on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice, "The fact that there has never been any assessment of the risk to health for the long-term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide-sprayed fields is an absolute scandal, considering that crop-spraying has been a predominant feature of agriculture for over 50 years."
Menawhile, just 24 hours earlier Tamsin had walked away from court with the nominal sentence of a conditional discharge for her part in scaling the rooftops of the Palace of Westminster to fight against the building a third runway. Their defence: they had protested in order to prevent a greater crime.
With nitrogen oxides near the two existing runways already exceeding those permitted under the rules, documentary evidence established BAA's efforts to evade liability by suggesting the receptors measuring pollution be moved away from the source - "which is tantamount to removing the thermometer from the patient and declaring them well". Whilst Tamsin and the others were not acquitted, her sentence (which carried a maximum of 6 months imprisonment) of a conditional discharge is a very clear indication that, where good reason exists, direct action to protect the planet is likely to be well received in the hallowed halls of the judiciary.
Well done girls - a collective cheer has been raised by all Wise Women. Wise law indeed.
UK Pesticides Campaign