THE COUNTRYSIDE Alliance failed in its bid to overturn the ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales when the High Court upheld the validity of the new law.
The group challenged the validity of the 1949 Parliament Act, which MPs used in the House of Commons to force through the Hunting Act against opposition from the House of Lords last November.
Delivering the Law Lords verdict a week last Thursday, Lord Justice Kay, sitting with Mr Justice Collins, said: "It is common knowledge this legislation causes great controversy, not only in Parliament but in the country."
But Lord Justice Kay dismissed all the arguments and ruled that it was clear that the 1949 Act was valid and the proposed hunting ban lawful.
The centuries-old sport will be outlawed when the Hunting Act takes effect on February 18, unless the Court of Appeal, to which the Countryside Alliance has been granted leave to appeal, finds the legislation legally flawed. The court is expected to hear the case on February 8, just ten days ahead of the Act coming into force.
John Rolls, the RSPCA's director of animal welfare promotion, said: "This challenge was always doomed to failure. Both the Hunting Act 2004 and the Parliament Act 1949 are pieces of primary legislation, validly passed by Parliament - the highest authority in the land - over which the court has no jurisdiction to interfere.
"So despite this latest diversion from the Countryside Alliance, we look forward to the ban on their barbaric 'sport' coming into force, as expected, on February 18."
John Cooper, chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports, called the decision "a great day for Parliamentary democracy".
"The elected House of Commons has ten times voted overwhelmingly for a ban on the cruelty of hunting with dogs and each time the ban - supported by three-quarters of the British public - was blocked by the unelected House of Lords. Rightly, the will of the people and their elected representatives has prevailed."
Any attempt to delay implementation of the Hunting Act must be rigorously opposed, Mr Cooper argued. "It would set an appalling precedent that could allow anyone who does not like a piece of legislation to delay its implementation through spurious legal challenges," he said. "Drug smugglers presumably do not like anti-drug laws, but they should hardly be allowed to avoid the consequences of their crimes by claiming the laws are a breach of their right to earn a living."
Any further appeal to the House of Lords would require permission from either the Court of Appeal or the law lords themselves. Ironically, the legal challenge could play itself out in the House of Lords if appeals are permitted that far.
Although the Alliance had planned to launch a separate human rights challenge this week, a hearing is not expected before April. Lawyers believe it would be impossible to seek an injunction on the strength of this challenge because the Human Rights Act does not allow courts to overturn Acts of Parliament.
Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart commented: "We have always expected that this case would eventually be heard in the House of Lords. It is a hugely significant constitutional case and consequently a difficult decision for the divisional courts to make. We remain confident in the merits of our case.
"The Court of Appeal will now hear this case before the Hunting Act comes into force on 18th February. The Judges accepted that we had a legitimate case and that the Court has the power to overturn the Act, although on this occasion the Judges disagreed with the legal points made, so the court’s judgement suggests that we have strong grounds for appeal. If, however, the Court of Appeal is not prepared to uphold our case we will seek leave to appeal to the House of Lords.
"At that stage we might also apply for an injunction to prevent prosecutions under the Hunting Act pending the outcome of the legal challenges. We will only consider this route if an injunction would represent a real benefit for the countryside - and is not just an attempt by the Government to delay commencement until after a General Election."