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Hunting: the legal challenge continues

THE LEGAL challenge to the validity of the Hunting Act continued earlier this week in London’s High Court. Although, in common with other courts in the capital, the court did not sit on Thursday last week, as a result of the terrorist bomb attack in London the previous day, it was business as usual earlier this week when the Government presented its response to the appeals brought by the Countryside Alliance and a European group of pro-hunters.

As reported previously, the two separate legal challenges were 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.

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).

The legal challenge to the validity of the Hunting Act under European Human Rights law got underway in the High Court on Tuesday with Richard Lissack QC and Richard Gordon QC presenting the CA’s case. The key points of their arguments hinged on the fact that a number of rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights are infringed by the Hunting Act.

The articles of the Convention which the CA argued were engaged relate to protection of property, the right to respect for private and family life, the freedom of assembly and association and discrimination.

Mr Lissack began by explaining to the court the devastation caused to the hunting community by the Hunting Act, and the impact on individual claimants in particular. He explained that many of the claimants involved in this case, as well as many others in the hunting community, stand to lose their jobs, their businesses, their homes and their way of life.

Richard Gordon went on to take the court through the detail of the case, explaining why the CA argued that the Convention applies, and why the Hunting Act was not a justified and proportionate measure.

Meanwhile, counsel for the European Law challenge to the Hunting Act, listed as a separate case that is being heard concurrently, began their submissions.

The key points of this challenge are that the hunting ban is having a major and practical impact on cross-border economic activity - on freedoms enshrined in EU Treaties. Articles 28, 39 and 49 protect the free movement of goods and workers within the Community and the freedom "to provide and receive services".

David Anderson QC argued that hunting is a long established and widespread activity in England and Wales and that it is also a commercially significant activity involving a large number of participants in other EU Member States.

The nine appellants – dubbed ‘The EU 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 Government, as defendants in both legal challenges, were expected to begin their submissions on Monday morning, and the RSPCA will intervene afterwards with its own opposition to the appeal. The case was scheduled to finish on Tuesday, although a judgement could take up to several weeks.