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Hunting act lawful, say Lords
- but new challenge to be launched in European courts –

THE HUNTING Act 2005 was ruled legal last week by the highest authority in the UK, following a long-running legal challenge by pro-hunting groups.

The House of Lords dismissed appeals by the Countryside Alliance and other hunting supporters who argued that the hunting ban breaches Human Rights and European law.

The Hunting Act 2004 must ‘be taken to reflect the conscience of a majority of the nation,’ said Lord Bingham, the senior Law Lord, in the leading opinion - after a ruling by the five Law Lords who heard the case last month.

He went on to say ‘The democratic process is liable to be subverted if, on a question of moral and political judgment, opponents of the Act achieve through the courts what they could not achieve in Parliament.’

This case provided a rare opportunity for animal welfare legislation to be considered by the highest court in the land. The RSPCA was granted permission to intervene in the proceedings and presented written submissions to the court.

John Rolls, RSPCA Director of Animal Welfare Promotion, welcomed the ruling and said: ‘The ability to make animals suffer for sport is not a human right, and we are glad to see that the Law Lords have unanimously decided to dismiss these appeals. We see this as a total vindication of our long-held view that hunting with dogs is cruel and unacceptable in modern Britain’.

The five Law Lords Law Lords who heard the case (Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Baroness Hale of Richmond and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood) decided by majority that the appeals should be dismissed.

Lord Hope commented: ‘The history of legislation in the United Kingdom for the prevention of cruelty to animals leaves no room for doubt that in this country the subject is deeply rooted in public policy. It has been for a long time regarded as one of the fundamental interests of society about which Parliament is expected, when the need arises, to legislate.’

Lord Bingham viewed the Hunting Act as a measure of social reform and that Parliament considered that the killing of foxes, deer, hares and mink ‘by way of recreation infringed a fundamental value expressed in numerous statutes and culminating in the 2004 (Hunting) Act’.
After the judgment, the RSPCA’s John Rolls said: ‘It is time for people who have spent millions of pounds challenging this law to accept it and move on. Cruelty-free hunting, which does not involve chasing a wild animal and where the pageantry, social recreation, jobs, horses and hounds can be retained, is the obvious way forward, and something the RSPCA has always suggested.’

The Law Lords also unanimously dismissed a related case involving a challenge to the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.

Lord Hope, giving the leading speech in that case, agreed ‘there was adequate factual information to entitle the Scottish Parliament to conclude that foxhunting inflicted pain on the fox and that there was an adequate and proper basis on which it could make the judgement that the infliction of such pain in such circumstances constituted cruelty’.

The Countryside Alliance accepted the ruling, but declared that it would challenge the Hunting Act 2004 in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg.

The Law Lords did, however, recognise that hunting is an activity deeply embedded in the tradition, life and culture of the countryside, and two of the Law Lords said that they would have found the ban to have been unlawful under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (private and family life) had it applied.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood asked: ‘Why should people not be free to engage in whatever pursuits they wish?’, and said that he strongly supported an extension of the law by the European Court of Human Right. He observed, however, that the reach of Article 8 was for the Strasbourg Court, and not the House of Lords, to develop.

Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: ‘We have always maintained that the legitimacy of the Hunting Act would eventually be decided in Europe. The Hunting Act was based on prejudice, rather than principle or evidence, and has no justification in terms of public benefit or animal welfare.

‘To have found in our favour would have meant the Law Lords finding that the Government has allowed fundamental human rights and European Law to be violated. We believe that the European Courts will support this view, even if the Law Lords were unable to.’