Foxhunting ruling: Both sides claim victory

TUESDAY 3PM: Both sides of the divisive foxhunting issue have claimed a court ruling on the sport as a victory.

Five years after the controversial Hunting Act was passed, a ruling by the High Court last week said searching for foxes with hounds was legal as long as they were not chased.

It added that the prosecution had to prove an accused was not covered by an exempt act under the law but that the huntsman would also have to prove what he was doing.

Today Rad Thomas, spokesman for the Quorn Hunt, one of three hunts to meet in Melton, welcomed the ruling.

He said: "I think it shows how unworkable the bill is, how badly thought out it was and how unnecessary it was. I think it has taken us one step closer to repealing the act and there is a good chance it will be on its way out soon, as it should be."

But anti-hunting groups have also welcomed the ruling saying it will open the doors to more prosecution.

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "We are delighted the judgment has focused on the need for better enforcement of the act and has set out clear guidelines for police forces to do this.

"There is absolutely no suggestion the law is unenforceable, in fact quite the opposite. We have said from the offset the act is clear but unfortunately the pro-hunting lobby has been unable to accept this and has continually criticised the legislation because it goes against their desire to kill for fun."

Under the Hunting Act 2004 it is illegal to chase a wild mammal with hounds except to flush them out for falconry or, when using up to two dogs, to shoot them.

The Crown Prosecution Service asked the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court to clarify the law after the first prosecution under the act dragged on for four years and resulting in an acquittal.

The ruling, by Sir Anthony May, said the burden of proof that hunters were not acting within the law, lay with prosecutors but he added that the accused had to declare their defence relied on an exempt activity.

Whatever the result of the argument, hunting in the Melton area continues to thrive.

Mr Thomas said: "The act has made life extremely difficult but people who want to come are just as loyal as they ever were and very supportive. We will continue to hunt within the law, but the sooner the act is abolished the better."