Vets have hailed the ruling slamming parliament for failure to discharge its constitutional duty to facilitate public consultations before passing the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Act.
The Act required veterinarians to be licensed to dispense medication.
The SA Veterinary Association (Sava), an voluntary association representing more than 60% of licensed vets in South Africa, approached the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) after the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Bill in December 2015.
The Bill sought to amend various sections of the Act, including the section relating to which professionals required licences to dispense and compound medicines.
The version of the Bill published for public comment did not include veterinarians in the list of professionals who required these licences, with the apex court agreeing with Sava that parliament failed in its constitutional duty to facilitate public participation in the law-making process.
The ConCourt judges this week unanimously ruled that both parliament and the National Council of Provinces (NCoP) failed to facilitate meaningful public involvement participation on the Bill and did not take reasonable steps to ensure that the public was consulted on the insertion of “veterinarians” into the Act.
Judges found that the insertion of the word constituted a material amendment to the Act as it brought the entire profession, which has previously been regulated by other legislation, under the Act’s purview.
“Veterinarians, as an interested affected group, should have been invited to make submissions. These failings by the NCoP, through the public hearings held by the provincial legislatures, render the insertion of the word ‘veterinarian’ further constitutionally invalid,” the ConCourt ruled.
Sava president Dr Charlotte Nkuna said the judgment was not only a victory for vets, but also animal owners who had no access to pharmacists in rural areas.
Nkuna said the inclusion of the word “veterinarian” meant that vets could not dispense medication without a licence and this would have been detrimental to animal owners as they would have to go to pharmacies, most of which did not have animal medication.
“State vets operate in rural areas where animal owners are unable to access medication so we were worried because the impact was on the community and not just the vets,” Nkuna said.
The application was unopposed and the South African Veterinary Association was awarded costs.