THE COURT of appeal last week rejected yet another challenge to the Government’s hunting ban, which claimed it breaches human rights and European law.
It was the latest of several attempts to overturn the Hunting Act 2004, which prohibits hunting a wild mammal with a dog, since it came into force in February last year.
The Countryside Alliance and other pro-hunting groups had argued that the ban infringed several of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and also their right to freedom of movement under the European Community treaty.
The Countryside Alliance and other campaigners are fighting the 2004 Hunting Act which prohibits fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing using dogs. Hunts have continued to meet, with packs instead chasing trails laid in advance by people or trying to exploit what they see as loopholes such as using birds of prey to chase quarry if it is flushed out by dogs.
The Alliance claims the ‘divisive’ legislation is a long-term threat to thousands who earn their living from hunting, but three appeal court judges - Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, Lord Justice Brooke and Lord Justice Buxton - upheld a high court ruling that the ban was lawful. In a written ruling they said ‘it is not disputed that all of the types of hunting that are banned by the Hunting Act are seen by those who participate in them as a valuable form of sport and recreation’.
But the law had been introduced to prevent or reduce suffering to wild mammals, on the basis it was ‘unethical’ to cause suffering for sport.
The judges rejected the claim that hunters' right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association had been infringed as they could continue to meet ‘although they are prohibited from certain activities’. Neither did the ban breach a right to peaceful enjoyment of personal property, or infringe the free movement of goods and workers under EU law.
Pro-hunters have been allowed to take the case to the House of Lords.
Brian Friend, secretary of the Liberal Democrat Forum for the Countryside, said: ‘I am disappointed but it was not unexpected. It does seem that human rights are applied to some people in this country and not to others.’
The RSPCA welcomed the judgment, saying it was a ‘very clear and authoritative’ decision that should put an end to any further challenges to the hunting ban.
‘This ruling is a total vindication of our long-held view that hunting with dogs is cruel and unacceptable,’ said Director of Animal Welfare promotion John Rolls.
‘It is time for people who have spent millions of pounds challenging this law to accept it and move on. They should finally accept the will of the public majority, of parliament, and of the courts.’
However, the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, Simon Hart, refused to accept the ruling and insisted the group would take their case to the European court under Human Rights legislation.
Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, added: ‘The judges seem to have shied away from taking a firm stance on Parliament’s prejudice. We have always maintained that the legitimacy of the Hunting Act would eventually be decided in Europe.
‘The Court failed to engage consistently with our arguments, relying on the increased support for hunting last year in the face of the ban as an indicator of things to come. It ignored the conclusion of both the Divisional Court, and the Burns’ Inquiry that the effects would be in the medium to long-term, rather than in the short term.
‘It is ironic that strong opposition to the ban in the countryside, for all the reasons that we argued in court, has had an impact on the judgment itself.’
Following the decision, pro-hunt campaigners vowed to continue their battle by taking the case to Europe ‘at the earliest opportunity.’