The photo above should provoke strong feelings from a wide range of people from all aspects of the community. It was taken at a recent County Show in one of the main arenas. I was interested in the types of cattle on show in this arena and hung around long enough to see the horsemen and bloodhounds take to the stage.
I had never really paid much attention to fox hunting as I am not from the ranks of the upper class nor do I condemn pest control. What interested me the most was the announcer who continued to praise these "hunters" for adapting their "sport" so as to remain within the realms of legality. This got me wondering about what the laws actually are!
Hunting has been regulated for many centuries, most often for the benefit of the upper class. Prior to 2004, several UK laws on animal welfare, such as the Protection of Animals Act 1911, the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 all contained specific exemptions for hunting activities, thereby preventing prosecution of hunt activities that might otherwise have been considered cruel.
It is common knowledge that the pro-hunting camp see their sport as a very important contribution to the control of foxes, and involves less cruelty than most other methods of controlling them, (namely, shooting, gassing, trapping and poisoning). This argument I find difficult to understand as fox hunting seems like a lot of effort to eradicate a single fox that has been chased throughout the countryside before being mauled to death if the huntsmen get lucky. A rifle and a keen eye seem to make for far less work and at least the fox doesn't know what hit it!
In 2003 Lord Donoughue proposed the Wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill that would have made it the case that "any person who intentionally inflicts, or causes or procures, unnecessary suffering on or to any wild mammal shall be guilty of an offence." This failed to become law as they were blocked by Labour members who wanted a specific hunting ban and also animal welfare groups criticised the Bill on two grounds. Firstly, they opposed the exemption of activities undertaken "in accordance with an approved code of conduct" This obviously was put into place so that the traditional pressed red jackets and packs of bloodhounds would be considered a code of conduct! The second objection was that if an activity was inherently cruel, it should be deemed so in law and not relying on prosecutors having to argue and prove cruelty in every single court case.
So what is the law?
It appears that the current Hunting Act 2004 is just a return to the defeated or withdrawn Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. A person guilty of an offence under the Hunting Act 2004 is liable to a fine not exceeding £5000 and there are no jail penalties!
This Act is to outlaw hunting with dogs (particularly fox hunting, but also the hunting of deer, hares and mink and organised hare coursing.) in England and Wales from 18 February 2005. Now I am confused! What do the likes of the chap in the photo actually do that keeps them within the realms of the law?
Are there exceptions?
It looks like there are exceptions and the fact that Police Forces have said many times that enforcement of the Hunting Act is a low priority, although they say they will enforce the law, most notably by investigating evidence of illegal hunting. A quick search of hunting violations will list all the types of poaching (taking of wild plants or animals contrary to law), but no mention of traditional fox hunting is made!
Most prosecutions under the Hunting Act have not involved hunts, but individuals who have hunted with a dog without consent of the landowner. To date there have been just nine attempted prosecutions involving registered hunts and just three of those ended in convictions.
An easy way for huntsmen to remain inside the law is to capture a fox, let it accidentally escape and then hunt it. The recapture of accidentally escaped wild animals are not covered by the Hunting Act 2004. It has also been ruled that the term "hunts" does not include the mere searching for an unidentified and unidentifiable wild mammal!
It is quite clear that any ban is unworkable as Police are not interested in enforcing the law and not altogether clear on what the laws are.
I finish this blog just as unclear as when I started. It is illegal, yet continues, Pro-hunters and Anti-hunters continue to campaign and Prosecutions rarely successful. This half-baked law keeps reminding me of the laws that surround Cannabis. Regardless of whatever evidence or facts available, it appears that the Government's personal opinions dictate what laws to pass. I just wish the Police Forces' enthusiam to spend time and money were more fairly focused.