Questions & Answers
reckless clause put all dog owners at risk of prosecution? No,
because the reckless behaviour clause would be modified by another stating that, if the dog was kept as a household pet,
was being normally exercised, had never been used for hunting and that the walker made reasonable efforts to stop the dog
pursuing the wild mammal, they would not have committed an offence. Responsible dog owners would have no need
to fear the law, but hunters would not be able to exploit this provision in order to escape prosecution.
The Hunting Act is in place. Don't we just need it to be enforced? Nine years since the ban
came into force, it is absolutely clear that hunts are continuing to send their hounds into cover where they know wild
mammals are likely to be found. Whenever they are caught chasing a wild mammal, they inevitably say
they were "trail hunting" , or flushing to a bird of prey
under that exemption, and the pursuit was an "accident". This situation must be rectified. The
insertion of a reckless behaviour clause into the Act would mean that the claim of an "accident" could no longer
be used, as hunters would be guilty of an offence if they "caused or permitted" their hounds to chase live quarry.
Such a clause could also be used to ensure that 'searching' for a wild mammal with dogs falls under
the definition of 'hunting'. It is clear that this is what the legislators intended, and that DEFRA originally believed
was the case. However, the High Court, upholding the appeal against conviction of the Exmoor FH Huntsman, declared that 'searching'
was not ''hunting' within the meaning of the Act. This left Hunts free to take hounds right up to where
they know quarry is likely to be hiding or resting up, making a large number of 'accidents' inevitable and rendering
it even more difficult to show that Hunts were wilfully chasing wild mammals. The Court also emphasised the necessity of proving
intent on the hunters' part. As a result of his judgement, the CPS, which failed to appeal against it, immediately
dropped all their pending cases against organised Hunts and the evidential bar which must be cleared to make a prosecution,
let alone conviction, possible was raised even higher than it was already.
Would the addition
of a reckless behaviour clause to the Hunting Act be sufficient? It is also necessary to close the loopholes currently being exploited
by hunters. The Gamekeepers' Exemption is being used as a cloak for terriermen to continue
to operate within foxhunts as they always have. The Falconers exemption
is being exploited by fox hunters as it does not limit the number of dogs which may be used to flush quarry to a
bird of prey. During the cubhunting season [and, indeed, at other times], when packs of hounds are traditionally held in a covert and trained to
kill fox cubs, foxhunts now take out a bird of prey, and claim, if challenged, that the hounds are flushing foxes from the
cover to the bird. In the opinion of hunt monitors, this is utterly false, the birds are incapable of killing a fox,
and would be unlikely to fly at one. The falconers themselves strongly object to what the hunters are doing, and they
also wish to see this loophole closed.
Also the exemptions which allow the retrieval of a shot
hare and the hunting of rats or rabbits are being exploited by beagle packs who know of no instance of a bird of
a prey actually being used by a Hunt, because there is no limit on the number of dogs which may be used for
these activities. Hunts suspected of using an entire pack of beagles for illegal hare hunting simply claim to
be operating under one of these exemptions, whilst mink hunts claim their packs are hunting rats. The
deer hunts are abusing the 'research and observation' example to continue chasing and killing red deer for 'sport'.(see 'At a Glance Guide' for details of proposed amendments).
are also needed. It has become evident that the main penalty for illegal hunting under the Act, a fine of up to £5000,
has proved inadequate as a deterrent. Indeed, most of the fines levied in the mere 24 successful Hunting Act cases against
organised Hunts or their members since 2005 have been a small fraction of that sum, POWA
believes that, being legislation intended to protect wild animals from unnecessary suffering, the Act should include power
to impose a prison sentence of up to 6 months, as is the case with the Wild Mammals Protection Act and the Wildlife &
Countryside Act. The powers in the Act to order forfeiture of dogs or material used in committing a Hunting Act offence have
never been used against organised Hunts, though they have been against trespassing offenders of the lurcher brigade. This
may be partly because the provision only allows for dogs actually used in the commission of an offence to be seized. In most
cases it would be next to impossible to prove which of the Hunt's dogs were involved. POWA argues that, in the case of
organised Hunts, the power should be to order forfeiture of all the dogs belonging to the Hunt. Section 10 of the
Act allows for the conviction of a Hunt as a body corporate, but it is phrased in such a way as to make it extremely
hard to prove. POWA believes that Hunts should be responsible for ensuring that their employees and officers do
not hunt illegally and that they should be potentially liable for conviction under the Hunting Act if they do.
is the evidence of widespread law-breaking by the Hunts? Hunt monitors and members
of the public have made a considerable number of complaints to the police of illegal hunting which they have witnessed and, often, filmed. The overwhelming majority of these have been rejected, sometimes in the early
stages by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service, sometimes after the police have gone to considerable trouble compiling
the evidence. ACPO made it clear early on that hunting offences would be accorded a low priority. As time has gone on
police in many areas have ceased to respond adequately to such
reports, perhaps because they know the chances of conviction are so remote. The League Against Cruel Sports has said that
the majority of the Hunts that their professional investigators observe appear to be breaking the Hunting Act, whilst volunteer
monitors and sabs say that almost all Hunts are flouting both the spirit and letter of the law.
The issue always comes back to proving "intent",
when the hunters have claimed an 'accident'. The levels
of evidence currently being demanded to satisfy
the needs of the Act are almost impossible to achieve. But POWA emphasises that the Act's wording and numerous
loopholes allow Hunts to continue to chase and kill wild mammals either without breaking the law or with a very slight
chance of being prosecuted should they do so.
Doesn't a call to strengthen
the Act just play into the hands of the hunters? On the contrary. The thing that the hunters fear the most is a strengthening of the Act. This
is illustrated by the words of pro-hunt Conservative MP David Maclean, when addressing the crowd at the Peterborough
Festival of Hunting in 2007. Mr Maclean said "'This law will be toughened up if Labour wins another election.
It is essential that we get political and help Vote OK to get the pro-hunting MPs into parliament.'
Do the public wish to see the Act strengthened?
Polls consistently show that the public remain overwhelmingly in favour of hunting being banned
and also that this opinion is shared by the majority in rural areas. They are aware of the level of lawbreaking
currently taking place, and a poll conducted by the Exeter Express & Echo on 15-1-09 asking
if the Hunting Act should be strengthened resulted in a vote of 86% in favour of strengthening, and only 14% against. A recent national opinion
poll [November 2013] by IpsosMori found 80% in favour, with just 17% against. Giving the lie to hunters' constant claims
to represent the countryside, the results from rural voters were almost exactly the same as urban ones. Clearly those
people would want an Act than can work properly.
Won't the police
use the assertion that the Act is currently too weak as an excuse not to bother to enforce the ban?
In fact, the police long ago drew that conclusion for themselves and it is probably the main reason why there has been so little attempt by police to enforce the Act. Also, an ACPO representative
has said that the low level of criminal sanctions provided by the Act was another factor that knocked its enforcement down
their order of priorities. At the
present time public money is being wasted, as police officers work hard compiling evidence of illegal hunting, only to have
the cases come to nothing as the CPS reject them on the grounds of the difficulty of proving "intent". A
stronger Act would aid both police and Crown Prosecution lawyers
in getting illegal hunting successfully prosecuted. The police are also concerned about the safety of hunt monitors, who try
to gather evidence of illegal hunting and who suffer repeated verbal and physical abuse and property theft and damage
from hunters. A more clear-cut law, with less onerous demands and, in particular not having to prove 'intent'
on the hunters' part, would mean the monitors would be in a less dangerous position.
POWA's campaign continues to encourage decision-makers to
Build on the Ban, Strengthen
Wild Animals Limited is a Private Limited Company, registered in England & Wales, number 6687073, registered address 101
Ely Road, Llandaff, Cardiff, CF5 2BZ
Neither POWA nor the Webmaster necessarily endorse all the views expressed on this site or the views expressed
in links/downloads on this site. Responsibility cannot be accepted by POWA or the webmaster for statements made by contributors
for publication on this site or on those sites/downloads to which links are given.