THE HUNTING ACT that bans hunting with dogs will be almost impossible to enforce, police chiefs said last week. Senior lawyers also predicted that the level of proof required for a successful prosecution would be difficult to obtain.
Photographs or a video of riders chasing a fox or deer would be needed to prove that unlawful hunting had taken place.
Alastair McWhirter, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ spokesman on hunting with dogs, said that prosecutions would go ahead only if people admitted that they were hunting or if an animal were seen during a chase.
In a statement which will come as a serious blow to supporters of the ban, Mr McWhirter said: "It is not an offence to wear red or pink coats or jackets, it is not an offence to exercise hounds or keep up traditions of using horns or meeting for a ride on horseback on private land. Unless someone owns up, you need a wild mammal in the picture to show that someone has committed an offence. However, we would enforce the law to the best of our ability."
Chief constables believe that the law will be tested in a way that has not been seen since the introduction of the breathalyser in 1967. The new law does not even include a definition of hunting as an activity.
Peter Neyroud, the Chief Constable of Thames Valley, said with masterful understatement: "Enforcement is not going to be easy."
Chief Superintendent Rick Naylor, president of the Superintendents’ Association, added that there would be problems with forces having to deal with mass disobedience.
Meanwhile, leading criminal lawyers agreed that a ban would be difficult for police to enforce. David Spens, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said that the hardest matter would be proving that people intended to go hunting and to break the law.
If a real animal in a drag hunt distracted hounds, however, he believes that riders would have to stop their chase immediately.
Courtenay Griffiths, QC, public affairs spokesman for the Bar Council, said: "If there is no proof that people were chasing a fox or a deer, then that will be difficult for the police. Without some sort of independent evidence whether that is an affidavit from a witness, electronic, video or photographic evidence, I don’t see how they could bring a prosecution."
There has not been a single successful prosecution for breaching the foxhunting ban in Scotland since it was introduced in 2002.