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New legal challenge to overturn Hunting Act

Jason Vickery (Dorset Dairy Farmer), Richard May (Cheshire Beagle pack owner), Colin Dayment (Devon Farrier), Lesley Drage (Glos Livery yard owner), Joe Cowen (Leics landowner and MFH of the Cottesmore), Donald Summersgill (Master of the Devon & Somerset Staghounds) and Kim Gooding (Lincs coursing trainer and kennel owner)

HUNT SUPPORTERS from across Europe have linked up with UK campaigners for a fresh legal bid to overturn the ban on hunting with hounds in England and Wales.

The two groups, including the Countryside Alliance, aim to catch the Government in a crossfire of EU law and domestic Human Rights challenges at the High Court in London.

Their application for judicial review began on Monday of this week and was expected to be heard over an anticipated six days before Lord Justice May, sitting with Mr Justice Moses. Horse dealers and breeders from Ireland who report suffering heavy financial losses are in the European campaign against the ban including Francis Derwin who owns one of the largest horse dealerships in Ireland and deals in around 800 horses a year.

A Belgian aristocrat, together with hunt followers from France, Germany and Portugal are also among the nine applicants seeking to use "superior" EU law to knock out the 2004 Hunting Act.

The ban prohibits deer hunting and hare coursing with dogs, as well as fox hunting, in England and Wales under the Hunting Act, which was passed by Parliament in November 2004.

Lawyers for the nine appellants – dubbed the "EU Nine" argue the ban cannot stand because it is inconsistent with articles under the Treaty that established the European Community. Articles 28, 39 and 49 protect the free movement of goods and workers within the Community and the freedom "to provide and receive services".

The nine say their Community rights of free movement and to trade have been infringed in a way which is unjustified and disproportionate. The ban also means that EU workers are being denied jobs. Their lawyers will contend that the "supremacy of Community law" means the Hunting Act, which is in conflict with those free movement rights, must be quashed or declared void.

The linked human rights challenge is being by pro-hunt campaigners from across the UK, who want a declaration that the Hunting Act is "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights.

They say the ban is resulting in thousands of job losses and profoundly damaging the rural economy by outlawing an important and fundamental part of rural life.

The ‘domestic’ challenge to the Hunting Act is being brought by the Countryside Alliance on behalf of ten individual British families whose livelihoods depend on hunting. The challenge focuses on the discrimination against a significant majority, and engages Articles 8 (the right to respect for private life), 11 (freedom of assembly and association), 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and Article 1, Protocol 1 (protection of property).

Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart said: "A mature democracy such as ours should safeguard the rights of minorities. It is a sad state of affairs when the Government allows discrimination, prejudice and political expediency to come before principle, evidence and decency, as it has done in forcing through the Hunting Act. It is now down to the courts to protect the human rights of the hunting community and, by extension, those of other minorities.

"The Hunting Act infringes fundamental rights under the European Convention on Human Rights which the Government signed up to and is bound by. The Government chose to ignore the warning of Westminster’s own Joint Committee on Human Rights that the Hunting Act infringed the ECHR and now it must face the consequences in court."