Aventis’ Action at the Chardon LL Hearing

Article by Eva Novotny from SGR Newsletter 25, July 2002

On the very first day of the Hearing (in fact, at the pre-Hearing meeting, when participants and the Chairman met to discuss procedures), Aventis’ lawyer caused much displeasure and consternation to all by declaring that they would not present evidence or produce a witness (which meant that they could not be cross-examined). In spite of the Chairman’s warning that this would weaken their case, and his urging for them to re-consider, Aventis remained firm in this decision.

When presenting their submission on 29th May, what the Chairman (a senior barrister) had feared from the beginning came to pass: Aventis did not merely make comments on what had been said by objectors but presented evidence, some of it without back-up references. The lawyer for Friends of the Earth then protested, asking that the lawyer who had been reading the submission should be declared a witness and be subject to cross-examination. The lawyer from RSPB supported the position taken by FoE. The lawyer for Aventis insisted several times that what he had said was NOT evidence and he also refused to become a witness. FoE insisted that it WAS evidence, and the Chairman concurred that it was ‘incontrovertible’ that Aventis had given evidence. It was also clear, however, that Aventis’ lawyer was not in a position to answer technical questions, even if he had been willing. FoE therefore suggested that the offending evidence be excised before Aventis’ submission was released to Ministers. Aventis countered that its entire submission was already on its website and thus available to ministers. The ensuing legal wrangle took the rest of the day and also nearly all the next day, when the proceedings ran well overtime even though Aventis had only 20 pages more to read of its submission (which they were allowed to complete). The Chairman expressed his regret that Aventis had chosen to give evidence, which the law firm preparing Aventis’ submission would have realised was evidence, and thereby caused this difficulty; it was the unhelpful situation he had foreseen from Day One (the pre-Hearing meeting). Finally, the Chairman and the lawyers for Aventis and FoE retired for a private meeting. At the conclusion of this meeting, the Chairman said it had been helpful that the parties had reached a compromise and announced that Aventis’ evidence would not be excised, but all protesters would have the right to reply to it and would have an extension of time to do so; and they would be allowed to include new evidence in support of this reply.

On the day Aventis concluded its presentation, its website carried a press release about the conclusion of the Chardon Hearing. It assumes an air of innocence and co-operativeness:

Aventis were disappointed that during the presentation of our oral submission, representatives of Friends of the Earth and RSPB made applications to Mr Alesbury, the Chairman of the Hearing that sections of this submission “should be excised from the public records to ensure that it is not considered by the national authorities”.

We find this train of thought very strange since during the hearing, a number of questions were raised, to which Aventis has responded in a full and honest fashion. Aventis has published the full submission to ensure that the general public is not denied this important information.

However, Aventis does welcomes Mr Alesbury’s comment at the end of the day’s session that he believed the way that Aventis had presented their submission was helpful to the other parties involved in the hearing.’

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