A decade on from the ban, fox hunting is still thriving

If we send the message that police and politicians can turn a blind eye to illegal behaviour simply because they don't like the law, the entire justice system is undermined.

If we send the message that police and politicians can turn a blind eye to illegal behaviour simply because they don’t like the law, the entire justice system is undermined

Ten years ago, on 18 November 2004, the Hunting Act was passed, banning hunting with dogs in England and Wales. It became law three months later, and marked the culmination of years of campaigning by activists and animal rights groups.

But hunting has not been stopped. Even before the Act was passed, 50,000 people signed a petition stating that they would be willing to break the law in order to continue with the sport.

The strength of feeling was remarkable; especially memorable was the philosopher Roger Scruton’s comparison of the pro-hunt campaign with the civil rights movement in America:

“By cancelling our viewpoint and our demands, and regarding us as a sub-human species, they are regarding us in the way that American blacks were regarded at the time of the civil rights movement”.

What is interesting about this statement is that it perfectly encapsulates the way that many hunters view what most people would view as a hobby as a human right. The Countryside Alliance continues to use this notion in its campaign for repeal which has the tagline ‘fight Prejudice, fight the ban.’

But is it really prejudiced to oppose fox hunting simply because a minority of people support it? A poll conducted last year by Ipsos Mori showed that eight out of 10 people were in favour of sustaining the ban. The poll also found no real difference between urban and rural opinions, which may seem to refute claims that the ban would sound the death knell for the rural economy.

Of course it is prejudiced to deny rights to a minority, but, it is not a basic human right to kill. Similarly, we do not usually tend to define minorities by their hobbies.

Regardless of what you think about the hunting ban, the more pertinent point is that a decade on, the law is not being properly enforced, and this is an affront to the integrity of the legal system. Not only that, Tory support for – and in some cases, participation in – hunting shows a flagrant disregard for public opinion.

In the 2010 Coalition Agreement, David Cameron promised MPs a free vote on overturning the ban, but ultimately conceded that they had little chance of repealing it. Most Tory MPs support a repeal of the ban but Labour and the Liberal Democrats want to keep it, meaning that a Commons vote would most likely reaffirm the ban.

But last Boxing Day, several Tory MPs took part in traditional hunts in their constituencies. Most of the hunts managed to stay within the law because they were chasing a scent and not an animal, a form of the sport known as drag hunting, but there could hardly be a better way for the Tories to harpoon themselves with the working public.

The ban is routinely ignored – but by people who can afford expensive horses and guns and all the pomp and ceremony of the chase. What does this say about equality?

There have been 340 successful prosecutions in the past decade, but this does not reflect the amount of hunting that still goes on. Furthermore, the punishments handed down are much more lenient than for other forms of animal cruelty.

The Hunt Saboteur Association is an organisation that stages non-violent protests on hunting grounds. Participants use video recordings to try to take more breaches of the law to prosecution.

However, the activists are just as likely to be prosecuted as the hunters. On 25 October, a hunt in Surrey was interrupted by saboteurs trying to end the misery of a deer that was being savaged by dogs. When the police showed up, four of the saboteurs were arrested. Lee Moon, the organisation’s spokesperson, said that ‘the police were happy to act as private security’ for the hunters.

The prosecution cases that have happened highlight exactly what the public’s problem is with hunting. In 2013 four members of the Middleton Hunt were arrested, and video footage from the League Against Cruel Sports showed one of the huntsmen handing over the fox to the dogs so they could ‘rag it’ – tear it to bits. Is there really a place for this in British society?

In 2010, a terriersman for the Ullswater Foxhounds was filmed beating a fox to death with a stick – he was fined £250 and ordered to pay £900 in costs. There would have been public outcry if this was a domestic animal – the fine is the same amount as the one ordered from Mary Bale, who infamously put a cat in a bin in 2010.

If this ban which has infuriated so many people is going to remain in place, then it has to be upheld. Those who break it have to be properly prosecuted, and given sentences that will deter others. If we send the message that police and politicians can turn a blind eye to illegal behaviour just because they don’t like the law, then the entire justice system is undermined.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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13 Responses to “A decade on from the ban, fox hunting is still thriving”

  1. madasafish

    I would have more sympathy to this article if we prosecuted those who abused children in Rotherham..

    A screwed up sense of priorities…

  2. Steven Anderson

    Everything in this article applies also to the illegal destruction of birds of prey on grouse moors, by the same section of society. And, for the benefit of ‘madasafish’, the priority issue is the establishment’s apparant immunity in everything from foxes to Rotherham.

  3. greg

    No it isn’t.

    In some things, like violent and sex crime and any crime where there is a defined person who is a victim clearly it’s a problem (foxes aren’t people) but if it’s not enforced but the fundamental moral principle to not have to follow an unjust law. For the police and judiciary to use discretion not enforce laws seen as unjust by the public and the right of jury nullification is important.

    Morality should trump the law as written. You can argue in particular cases it shouldn’t be, you can’t say it undermines the justice system.

    If this author has ever thought the police should arrest less drug users, or thought people were right not to pay their poll tax or whatever then the author is also a hypocrite.

    The fact that while most people oppose fox hunting if asked in a survey, almost no one barring a few animal rights activists actually care, certainly the majority of the population don’t care about fox hunting enough to do anything or talk about it. That doesn’t seem to justify devoting resources to it that should be spent on almost anything else like I don’t know, properly reporting and investigating sex crimes and violent crimes.

  4. Alan Kirby

    A pretty good analysis of the situation, but a major reason why Hunts are still able to get away continuing to hunt wild animals with very little fear of investigation, let alone sanction is that the Hunting Act was not drawn tightly enough and is full of loopholes. Hunts and the Countryside Alliance’s clever lawyers invented ‘trail hunting’ to take advantage of this and it has mostly worked beautifully. Just 33 persons from organised Hunts have been convicted or cautioned for illegal hunting in 10 years. All of the 300 + other convictions under the Hunting Act have been committed by, usually underclass, members of the ‘lurcher brigade’ trespassing to carry out hare or fox coursing, digging out foxes with terriers, etc. Such offences were already illegal before the Hunting Act and were quite frequently prosecuted as poaching, criminal trespass etc. But as for organised Hunts they’ve been inconvenienced and affronted by it [because they think they should be above the law] but that’s about all.
    Sabs and monitors are clear that most Hunts attempt to hunt live quarry most of the time and have mountainous video evidence to show this, but the evidential bar is set so very high it is extraordinarily difficult to construct a case that will stand up in court. What they’re allowed to do looks so like traditional hunting that they can nearly always get away by claiming’ accident’ or exploit one of the loopholes The prosecution has to prove that identifiable hunters intended to’engage or participate’ in the pursuit of an identifiable animal. And even when they are – very rarely convicted – the penalties are, to them, derisory. Because illegal hunting is not ‘recordable’, they don’t even get a criminal record. Extremely hard to enforce, no real deterrent. And, because offences are so hard to prosecute and convict, and of such a low level of ‘seriousness’, that gives police/CPS a reason/excuse to really not try very hard.
    Protect Our Wild Animals – http://www.powa.org.uk – has been saying the Act needs significant strengthening since before it was passed, but it was only this week that the League Against Cruel Sports finally agreed we were right. We expect the other major wildlife protections to now do the same. This will provide a realistic chance of getting Labour to agree that their own Act does need amending and then all we need is them in government with a decent majority.
    Don’t laugh it could happen – and if it is we’ll do our darndest to make sure a proper belt and braces job is done this time to firmly and finally rein in the hunters. Meanwhile please support our efforts at http://www.campaigntosttrengthenthehuntingact.com .

  5. Guest

    Or made you pay tax.


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