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Attorney General to defend hunt ban

THE ATTORNEY General lord Goldsmith QC, was set to defend the Government's Hunting Act in person at the High Court on Tuesday this week in the first of a series of challenges brought by the Countryside Alliance to challenge the legality of the Hunting Act which was enacted by use of the Parliament Act last November.

A judgment is expected today (Friday), which allows time for an appeal to be heard before Feb 18, when the Government's ban on hunting with dogs is due to come into force.

This timetable will avoid the need for the courts to rule on whether they have the power to suspend an Act of Parliament pending a hearing to decide its validity. In what has been seen as an attempt to defer the ban until after a general election, the Government has said it would "neither oppose nor support" an application by the alliance for such an injunction.

As a result, the League Against Cruel Sports was granted permission to intervene in the case. The league, which has campaigned against hunting for 80 years, will challenge any attempt to delay the ban.

But this may prove unnecessary if, as expected, the Court of Appeal delivers its ruling before Feb 18.

At the hearing Sir Sydney Kentridge, QC, for the Alliance, argued that "the Hunting Act 2004 is not an Act of Parliament and is of no legal effect".

This, Sir Sydney added, is because it was passed under the Parliament Act 1949, which, he says, was not a valid Act of Parliament either.

The 1949 Act was, in turn, passed under the Parliament Act 1911. This appears to allow a Bill to become law without Lords approval if passed by the Commons in three successive sessions, rather than two.

By reducing the number of sessions needed, the 1949 Act purports to amend the Act under which it was passed. But Sir Sydney argued that Lords support would have been needed for a valid amendment to the 1911 Act. The 1949 Act "infringes the principle that a delegate may not enlarge the scope of his own authority", he says in a written submission.

But in written submissions for the Government, Lord Goldsmith says: "There is no explicit prohibition in the 1911 Act against it being used to amend its own procedures, and no room for any implicit prohibition."

Therefore, he told the court, the 1949 Act was passed validly. "It follows that the Hunting Act 2004 is part of the law of the land."

Both Lord Goldsmith and David Pannick, QC, for the League Against Cruel Sports, also argued that opponents of the 1911 Act wanted it to say that any future amendments should need the support of both Houses, but were defeated.

The Countryside Alliance launched a separate claim on Monday, this time under the Human Rights Act, arguing that the Hunting Act interferes with the right to respect for private life; freedom of assembly and peaceful enjoyment of possessions. It is possible that if the courts find that there is a case to answer, the introduction of the Hunting Ban could be delayed for many months, certainly past the February 18th deadline.