IN a judgement that will be seen as a major blow for countryside campaigners, the Court of Appeal has dismissed challenges by the Countryside Alliance and other hunting supporters that the hunting ban breaches human rights law.
Appeal Court upholds hunting ban
The Alliance had argued that the Hunting Act 2004 breaks European Human Rights law and restricts employment and trading possibilities that are protected under European Union Trading and Employment legislation.
The claimants, represented by Richard Gordon QC, argued that as a result of the Hunting Act, they may lose their homes, their jobs and their livelihoods; as well as asserting that it threatens their lifestyle and deprives individuals of their property or controls it in such a way as to render it virtually useless.
Similar arguments were rejected by the High Court in March this year, though leave to appeal was granted.
"The ability to make animals suffer for sport is not a human right, and we are glad to see the court has given a very clear and authoritative judgement. This ruling is a total vindication of our long-held view that hunting with dogs is cruel and unacceptable," said the RSPCA's director of animal welfare, John Rolls.
"It is time for people who have spent millions of pounds challenging this law to accept it and move on. They should finally accept the will of the public majority, of parliament, and of the courts."
Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, commented: "The judges seem to have shied away from taking a firm stance on Parliament's prejudice. We have always maintained that the legitimacy of the Hunting Act would eventually be decided in Europe.
"The Court failed to engage consistently with our arguments, relying on the increased support for hunting last year in the face of the ban as an indicator of things to come. It ignored the conclusion of both the Divisional Court, and the Burns' Inquiry that the effects would be in the medium to long-term, rather than in the short term.
The judges seem to have shied away from taking a firm stance on Parliament's prejudice
Simon Hart - Countryside Alliance
"It is ironic that strong opposition to the ban in the countryside, for all the reasons that we argued in court, has had an impact on the judgment itself."
The ban on hunting with dogs came into force on 18 February 2005, and since then many hunts have converted to drag hunting - where a scent is followed rather than live quarry.
In their judgement, Lord Justice Brooke and Lord Justice Buxton agreed with the High Court that there was sufficient material available to MP's for them to conclude that hunting with dogs is cruel.
The ban on hunting was only brought in because Tony Blair was having another bad time with his backbenchers. Every time his backbenchers looked like voting against the party line he dangled the carrot of a hunting ban in front of them.
He was never really in favour of a ban but he had used it so many times to calm his backbenchers down that eventually he had to let them have it.
I doubt the majority of the people in his constituency (Rural Sedgefield)would be in favour of the ban
Robert Heaps - Bedale N. Yorks