HUNTING ACT - REFORM NOT REPEAL - Page Two
18. In the nine hunting seasons since the legal banning of hunting, fox hunts have very frequently been observed hunting and sometimes killing foxes. However, when such incidents are reported by members of the public, or recorded by hunt monitors or sabs, the hunters merely claim that it was an ‘accident’. The fox, they will say, had jumped up in front of the hounds, and, before they could be stopped, it was ‘unfortunately’ pursued and perhaps torn to pieces - or run to ground.
a. Indeed, the Hunting Act does not actually place any obligation to stop hounds in such a situation, and the hunters are only at risk of prosecution and conviction if it can be shown that they intentionally 'engaged or participated' in the chase. The 2009 High Court decision in the successful appeal of the Exmoor FH Huntsman, who had been convicted of illegal hunting, determined that 'searching' was not 'hunting' within the meaning of the Act. This left hunters completely free to take hounds right up to where they had good reason to believe they would be likely to find quarry hiding or resting up, and they are very often observed doing this. No wonder then that there are so many 'accidents'.
b. But what about the foxes that sense the hounds are nearby? Don't they pop down their 'earth' ? Yes, as do many that have been chased, accidentally or deliberately, But every Fox Hunt still has the brutal 'spade and terrier' brigade accompanying them, even though using dogs to hunt foxes underground is illegal. They are exploiting the 'gamekeepers exemption' which allows a single terrier to be used to flush out a fox to be shot for the purpose of 'preventing serious damage' to game birds being kept or reared for shooting.
21. There is no requirement in the Hunting Act for the hunters to prove that foxes have been causing such ‘serious damage’ - unlike the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which states that this defence must be accompanied by evidence of such damage. So the hunters simply point to the local tame landowner who only has to say he invited the terrier-men to flush out the fox and shoot it because he likes to have a few pheasants to shoot for the pot. Terriermen with Hunts are often seen engaging, or attempting to engage, in dig-outs of foxes that the hounds have driven to ground, much as they did pre-ban. This has much more to do with 'sport' than genuine 'pest control'.
22. Thus Fox Hunting, in all its gore, continues almost unchanged, in defiance of the clearly expressed will of parliament and public.
23. In order to convict someone of hunting a wild mammal with a dog, the current Act demands proof that the person[s] charged wilfully took part in the pursuit of the mammal by the dog[s]. This is because words such as ‘caused or permitted’, which are common in legislation outlawing acts of cruelty or killing, have been omitted.
24. Monitors mere presence may have some effect in restraining Hunts from attempting to chase and kill wild animals, though some have continued to do just this even though they know cameras were being trained on them. Yet, even when hunting is conducted openly and filmed, monitors have still usually been unable to persuade the authorities that there are sufficient grounds to prosecute.
25. Monitors can never hope to cover more than a small fraction of the more than 250 Hunts in England and Wales. There have been around 140,000 hunting days since the the Act came into effect, and, judging by what monitors have witnessed of Hunts' behaviour over those years, offences will have been committed on a very large proportion of those days, and most of them by a number of hunters. But there have been just 23 members of organised Hunts [and one body corporate] convicted for illegal hunting since it became a crime in 2005. An average of just 3 members of organised Hunts per year. This is a quite astonishingly low offence to conviction ratio.
a. If it was illegal to ‘cause or permit a dog to hunt, attack, injure or kill a wild mammal’ and a hunter enters hounds into areas where he knows, or ought to know (because the hunt had found foxes there for decades before) they were likely to find and chase or kill a fox, then he could be charged with ‘causing or permitting’ the offence - through recklessness. The same applies to other forms of quarry hunting. It should induce Hunts to adjust their current form of 'trail hunting' to something much more like genuine drag hunting, and make it much less likely that they will 'accidentally' chase and/or harm wild mammals.
b. The prosecution would not have to prove that the hunter intended the dogs to hunt wild quarry. It would be enough to prove recklessness. The body of statute law is replete with offences for which it is only necessary to show reckless behaviour to convict. For instance, many motorists are convicted of causing death or injury in accidents involving reckless behaviour on their part, whether it be driving under the influence of drink or drugs, speeding, talking on a mobile phone etc. The courts don’t have to consider whether the driver intended to kill or injure someone. Similarly, a person who causes their child, or domestic animal,s to suffer can be convicted of cruelty by neglect, or even ignorance, irrespective of whether they intended to cause suffering.
28. It seems that the penalties provided under the Hunting Act are insufficient to deter organised hunters from offending. Fines of up to £5,000 can be imposed, but nearly all the sanctions against convicted members of organised Hunts have been just a small fraction of that. Indeed, in 2013, two offenders were just given Conditional Discharges. An ACPO spokesman has stated that the low seriousness accorded to Hunting Act offences is a significant reason why police accord such low priority to investigation and enforcement. This attitude seems also to influence some judges and magistrates in sentencing. Nor are Hunting Act offences 'recordable', further reducing deterrence, since conviction does not result in a criminal record.
a. The Hunting Act was intended to protect wild mammals from the infliction of the unnecessary suffering that is inevitable, perhaps intentional, in hunting with dogs for 'sport'. Logically, the Act should contain penalties similar to that in other animal projection legislation.
b. Although the Animal Welfare Act 2006, for instance, allows for much stiffer sanctions, the Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996 is perhaps the most appropriate comparison. This allows for a fine of up to £5,000, and/or a prison term of up to 6 months. POWA believes that the Hunting Act should carry penalties of no lesser magnitude. This would also make Hunting Act offences 'recordable'.
c. Because domestic animals are inevitably used in the commission of Hunting Act offences, consideration should also be given to adding a power to disqualify offenders from keeping or owning animals, even if it could only be used against serial offenders. This should present a significant deterrent to hunt staff in particular.
d. The Hunting Act 2004 was intended to prevent certain wild animals being unnecessarily hounded and savaged to death by dogs. It has been used successfully to convict between three and four hundred offenders – but these are mostly trespassing hare-coursers, badger diggers and poachers caught by the police acting on information supplied by members of the public. The number of successful prosecutions of members of organised Hunts is tiny in comparison, and have mostly been achieved through private prosecutions by animal welfare societies, several through evidence supplied by voluntary hunt monitors dedicated enough to spend a huge number of hours in the field and brave enough to risk the obstruction, abuse, harassment, threats, damage or theft of property and violence commonly meted out by hunt followers and staff.
e. Monitors' mere presence may have some effect in restraining Hunts from attempting to chase and kill wild animals, though some continue to do just this even though they know cameras are being trained on them. Yet, even when they have hunted openly and been filmed, monitors have still usually been unable to persuade the authorities that there are sufficient grounds to prosecute.
f. But monitors can never hope to cover more than a small fraction of the more than 250 Hunts in England and Wales. There have been approaching 140,000 hunting days since the the Act came into effect, and, judging by what monitors have witnessed of Hunts' behaviour over those years, offences will have been committed on a very large proportion of those days, and Hunts seem to be becoming ever more brazen. But there have been just 23 members of organised Hunts [and one whole Hunt] convicted of illegal hunting since it became a crime in 2005. This is a quite atonishingly low offence to conviction ratio.
35. The Hunting Act has, so far, largely failed to curb the powerful and organised group of criminals whose activities were the target of the entire democratic and Parliamentary action. Parliament now needs to demonstrate that its authority cannot be thwarted by any group of people – no matter how well-funded, no matter how highly placed their friends and no matter how much land they control. The Hunting Act needs to be amended so that it does what it was intended to do – prevent the unnecessary suffering of wild mammals in the name of bloodsports. The Act should certainly not be removed from the statute book. When criminals circumvent the law, it should be strengthened to stop them, not repealed to reward them.
John Bryant and Alan Kirby, M.Sc - POWA