THREE OF the UK’s most senior judges considered an appeal this week by hunt supporters to overturn the ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales.
The Countryside Alliance was challenging the validity of the 1949 Parliament Act, which the Speaker had used last November in the House of Commons to introduce the Hunting Act because of opposition from the House of Lords.
The centuries-old sport is due to be outlawed when the Hunting Act takes effect nest week, unless the appeal judges rule the legislation flawed and unenforcable.
Tuesday’s appeal was heard by Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, sitting with the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips, and Lord Justice May.
Lawyers for the pro-hunt campaigners argued in the High Court that the Parliament Act "was not truly an Act of Parliament" because it sought unlawfully to amend conditions in the 1911 Parliament Act, which first reduced the powers of the House of Lords. They also contended that it was "unlawfully delegated legislation" and was invalid.
The Alliance case marks the start of what could be a barrage of legal attempts, including a further challenge planned under the Human Rights Act, to overturn the ban.
Prime Minister Tony Blair is keen to avoid any confrontation with hunting activists and rural voters in the forthcoming general Election campaign, so the suspension of the legislation would suit him well. However, pro-hunters have warned that even if the Act is delayed by any legal challenges, Mr Blair can expect a rough ride in the election campaign, with several Labour MPs in marginal, rural seats in danger of being voted out.
The planned challenge under the Human Rights could in itself, lead to a suspension of the Hunting Act. What is clear, however, is that he last hunting horn has not yet sounded.