Wednesday, November 28, 2007


The Cornishman

A legal bid to prove the ban on hunting with dogs contravenes the human rights of people in the countryside has been thrown out by the Law Lords.

Last night campaigners vowed to take their case to the European Courts despite the unanimous verdict that the Hunting Act 2004 must stand to prevent animal cruelty.

But Westcountry hunts last night insisted the welfare of wildlife had worsened since the Act became law.

The House of Lords, the highest court in the land, yesterday dismissed the challenge by the Countryside Alliance and other campaigners to the lawfulness of the Hunting Act. It is the second time an appeal against the act has been rejected.

Lord Bingham, the former Lord Chief Justice who headed the panel of Law Lords, admitted in his ruling that fox hunting was an "emotive and divisive subject".

"For some it is an activity deeply embedded in the tradition, life and culture of the countryside, richly portrayed in art and literature, a highly cherished, skilful, healthy and useful form of communal outdoor exercise."

Others find the pursuit of a small animal across the countryside until it is caught and destroyed by hounds to be abhorrent."

He said the House of Lords had never given its consent to the Hunting Act but they were a judicial committee who had to give their views without reference to their personal sympathies.

Lord Hope, who was also on the panel, added that a history of laws preventing cruelty "is deeply rooted in public policy".

But the Countryside Alliance claimed the Act - which prohibits fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing with dogs in England and Wales - violated the fundamental human rights of thousands of people whose livelihood and way of life revolved around the meet and the chase.

Between 6,000 and 8,000 were expected eventually to lose their jobs, and many would also lose the homes that went with the jobs, the Law Lords were told. Others would lose businesses and the commercial "goodwill" attached to them.

Last night Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, vowed to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg.

He 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."

And John Lucas, spokesman for Tiverton Staghounds, told the WMN: "Animal welfare has certainly not improved since the hunting ban came in because we all know that two hounds can flush out whatever quarry it is and there are a lot more wild animals being shot indiscriminately along with other methods of control being used.

"The Hunting Act was not about animal welfare but prejudice and bigotry towards the countryside.

"I am sure if they delved deep enough and looked into the countryside they will see animal welfare has taken a step backwards."

In the ruling, Lord Bingham said the law had been drawn up and passed in line with the constitution and should not be undone by an interest group. The democratic process was liable to be subverted if, on a question of moral and political judgment, opponents of the Act achieved through the courts what they could not achieve in Parliament.

Earlier John Rolls, director of animal welfare promotion for the RSPCA, which was given permission to give its views to the House of Lords hearing, 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 Law Lords also dismissed arguments that the Hunting Act infringed European trade laws.

In the Scottish case, Lord Hope, giving the leading ruling said: "There was adequate factual information to entitle the Scottish Parliament to conclude that fox hunting inflicted pain on the fox and that there was an adequate and proper basis on which it could make the judgment that the infliction of such pain in such circumstances constituted cruelty".

The Scottish case had been brought by Brian Friend, an associate member of the Union of Country Sports Workers. He raised concerns about the "the rights of minorities within the majority of the indigenous British population". He added: "I argued that I and my family should have the protection of the same human rights as are guaranteed, to gypsies, Saami Indians, Eskimos, aborigines, ethnic minorities, criminals, terrorists, asylum seekers and to indigenous peoples everywhere and that the Human Rights Act must apply to everyone, not just selected groups."

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