High Court ruling makes hunting ban 'even weaker'
office at evnuk.org.uk
Thu Feb 5 01:11:06 GMT 2009
Countryside Alliance jubilant as High Court ruling makes hunting ban
By Michael Lea
Last updated at 10:10 PM on 04th February 2009
Foxhunting supporters claimed a major legal victory tonight over the
law banning their sport.
A High Court judgment clarifying the definition of hunting effectively
reduces the scope of the Hunting Act and makes prosecutions more
difficult, they said.
The hunt ban has produced just 90 prosecutions since its introduction
in 2005, while hunt numbers have increased.
One reason mooted for the low number of prosecutions has been lack of
clarity over the definition of hunting.
The High Court had been asked to define what activities were covered
by the hunting ban, following several appeals against convictions.
Kerry Barker, of the Crown Prosecution Service, told the judges that
'hunt' must mean 'hunting for or searching for'.
He said: 'If searching for a wild mammal with dogs is not illegal,
then it is difficult to see how Parliament's intention of preventing
cruelty and bringing an end to the sport of hunting can be met.'
But Sir Anthony May, president of the Queen's Bench Division, and Mr
Justice Maddison ruled that hunting did not include mere 'searching
for' an animal.
And they said it was up to the prosecution to prove defendants were
not covered by exemptions to the ban - rather than defendants having
to show they were exempt.
The ruling is a victory for Tony Wright, of Exmoor Foxhounds, the
first man prosecuted for hunting foxes. He had his conviction
overturned after arguing that farmers had asked the hunt to kill foxes
to reduce losses during the lambing season.
Under the Act, there are exemptions in circumstances where animals are
causing 'serious damage' and when only one or two dogs are used.
Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance, called the High Court outcome
'very positive' and said: 'We have won on everything essentially. This
should mean the prospect of Hunting Act offences being prosecuted will
be far lower. We would expect there to have to be overwhelming
evidence for a prosecution even to be launched.'
But opponents of blood sports said the law had simply been clarified
and more court cases were likely to follow as a result. Douglas
Batchelor, of the League Against Cruel Sports, accused the Countryside
Alliance of 'trying to put the judgment wider than it goes'.
He said: 'It is really a victory for clarity in the law and the
backlog of hunting cases will be able to pass through the courts.
'We have been absolutely assured by our lawyers that the Hunting Act
as it was intended is still in place.'
Hunts can take place legally by either laying a scent for hounds to
follow or using a pack to flush a fox or another mammal out for a bird
of prey to kill.
The use of dogs to kill the animal is forbidden, except in certain
circumstances. But critics say that in some cases they knowingly allow
dogs to chase a fox after it has been 'flushed', while others lay
artificial trails close to known fox habitats, then claim the animals
are being 'accidentally' hunted by the pack.
More than 3,000 registered hunts in England and Wales have carried out
70,000 hunting days since the ban, while the number of people who
subscribe to them is said to have increased by 10 per cent over the
same period, to 44,000.
The Tories have promised a free Commons vote on repealing the law if
they win the next election.
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