ANTI-HUNTING campaigners are seeking to fight a planned legal challenge to the Government's ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales. The League Against Cruel Sports, which has campaigned for 80 years for such a ban, will ask the High Court for permission to intervene in a High Court challenge to the Hunting Act 2004, launched last year by the Countryside Alliance.
Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, has made it clear that ministers will not oppose an application by the alliance to suspend the implementation of the Hunting Act while its legal challenge and any appeal are heard by the court.
The Government has no wish to see supporters of hunting arrested in the run-up to a general election expected in May and thus create sympathy for their cause and undermine the Government.
There is no guarantee that the judges will acquiesce in such an arrangement - or that the courts would take the unprecedented step of declaring an Act of Parliament invalid, even on a temporary basis. But yesterday the league said it would seek to defend the legislation.
If LACS’ action is successful, it could lead to a campaign of mass civil disobedience by hunting supporters that could rebound against the Government.
At a hearing on January 25, the alliance is expected to argue that the Hunting Act is not good law because it was passed under the Parliament Act 1949, which was designed to allow Bills opposed by the Lords to become law after a year's delay. Campaigners argue that it was unlawful to bring the 1949 Act into force, without House of Lords approval, under the Parliament Act 1911.
That argument is rejected by the league, which says it would be "unthinkable" for the courts to overturn the Parliament Act 1949 and therefore the Hunting Act.
The new legislation is due to take effect on February 18. Douglas Batchelor, the league's chief executive, said yesterday it would seek to defend that commencement date in court.
"The Countryside Alliance's action and the proposed injunction set a dangerous precedent, which could see all legislation forced to pass through lengthy legal challenges before it can be implemented," he said.
"We are seeking to be represented at the hearings, not only to fight cruelty, but also to defend parliamentary democracy.
"It is up to us to defend the defenceless animals from the gratuitous cruelty of the hunt supporters."
A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance responded: "The league is perfectly entitled to ask the court to listen to relevant views that it might wish to express."
Even if the High Court initially rejects the challenge to the Parliament Act, the Countryside Alliance will lodge an appeal, which would oblige the Court to suspend the Act until the appeal was heard – most likely in the Autumn of this year.
In any event, the alliance is also planning a separate challenge under the Human Rights Act, arguing that the ban on hunting interferes with the private lives of hunters and the livelihoods of those employed by hunts. That claim is likely to be heard some time after the Parliament Act challenge and may cause the issue to drag on for several years.
Whatever the outcome of the first High Court challenge, and no matter how well LACS may oppose it, the odds are that hunting in its present form will continue for some considerable time after February 18.