A high court judge has given the go-ahead for a court challenge to fluoridation plans of Southampton’s water supplies.
The move is a major breakthrough for campaigners fighting a scheme which has stirred controversy in its aim to improve the state of local children’s teeth.
The fluoridation scheme has been criticised as ‘mass medication’ by those against it, including Hampshire Against Fluoridation pressure group.
The application for a judicial review was initiated by city resident Geraldine Milner, who is being represented by local solicitors, Leigh Day & Co.
Ms Milner is opposed to the proposals, approved by health authorities in February, because of uncertainties regarding long-term health risks associated with fluoridation, as well as concerns about possible adverse environmental effects.
The legal challenge argues that the SHA failed to have regard for the government’s policy that mass fluoridation of drinking water should only go ahead in any particular area if a majority of the local people are in favour.
By granting permission for the judicial review of the health authority’s plans, Mr Justice Mitting stated that one of the grounds for Ms Milner’s application raises a ‘significant public law question’.
A second ground stated in the Southampton resident’s application is that the health authority did not properly examine the ‘cogency’ (or force) of the arguments for and against fluoridation.
The judge refused permission for this ground to be considered in the judicial review, saying that it was ‘not reasonably arguable’.
Leigh Day & Co solicitors have appealed against the judge’s refusal of this ground and this appeal is to be heard at an oral hearing on 23 October.
If the appeal is successful, both grounds will go forward to the hearing of the judicial review in the High Court likely to be in early 2010.
If it is unsuccessful, the judicial review will still proceed but only on the first ground.
If the court upholds the complaint it could ultimately lead to the scheme, affecting almost 200,000 people in and around Southampton, being scrapped.
John Spottiswoode, chairman of pressure group Hampshire Against Fluoridation, said: ‘It is a fundamental human rights’ question of who has the right to force other people to drink something that they object to drinking and, indeed, consider to be a toxin.’
A statement from the South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) said: ‘The South Central SHA is pleased with the ruling and the Judge’s view, that ‘in all other respects the decision-making process was unimpeachable.
‘The SHA remains confident that the decision that has been made by the SHA Board was carried out in accordance with the relevant legislation laid down by parliament and is in the best interests of the health of local people.’
The appeal has already stalled plans to begin a similar process in the north west of England.
Last month, the North West SHA said it was waiting for the outcome ‘before committing significant resources on this matter’.
More than 10,000 people submitted their opinions during the consultation, with 72% of those from people living in the affected area saying they were against fluoridation.
In a separate phone survey of 2,000 residents, 38% of people questioned opposed the scheme, compared to 32% in favour.