Time has come to ask for amendments to the Hunting Act

We are now calling for a number of necessary amendments of the Hunting Act to address this clear enforcement problem.Today we received the news that the RSPCA has dropped the prosecution against the huntsman of the Cattistock hunt that was scheduled to be heard in a few weeks’ time. When you are an organisation that runs hundreds of prosecutions, dropping cases for various reasons is not uncommon, and we understand the RSPCA’s reasons in this case.

However, for us, this case was highly significant, since we are talking about the Hunting Act 2004, and a case we developed.

The case was based on evidence provided by IFAW’s Wildlife Crime Investigators, who work under very hostile conditions to obtain evidence to help enforce the hunting ban.

We believe it was a good case and that the evidence we provided should have been enough to convict the huntsman, but once again the hunt has used “trail hunting” (following an artificially laid fox-based scent) as a defence, and once again they got away with it.

It is the latest in a series of cases where the prosecution has hinged on evidence which IFAW and other animal welfare groups believe show clear evidence of illegal hunting, but which the prosecution claim is legal trail hunting.

Therefore, although for years we have been saying that the Hunting Act is enforceable as long as the enforcement agencies take it seriously, the recent successful use of trail hunting as a false alibi is making us change our position and now we are calling for a number of necessary amendments of the Act to address this clear enforcement problem.

As the UK Director of IFAW, Philip Mansbridge, said, we stand by our evidence completely; this case was dropped but not lost. It was the strength of our evidence in this case that led us to the reluctant conclusion that having tried everything under the current justice system, we need to call for changes to strengthen the Hunting Act.

Unfortunately, we have been witnessing time and time again, hunts flouting the law and escaping prosecution by using the false alibi that they were trail hunting.

In addition to this, the pro-hunt lobby are continually dragging out cases, wasting public and charity funds and in cases which do reach court the smokescreen of trail hunting is simply letting them off the hook.

Unfortunately, we have been witnessing time and time again, hunts flouting the law and escaping prosecution by using the false alibi that they were trail hunting.

IFAW is calling for the following changes to the Hunting Act to ensure those who illegally chase or kill foxes and other British mammals with hounds are successfully prosecuted:

· The introduction of a recklessness clause to prevent ‘trail hunting’ from being used as a false alibi;

· The removal of the ‘observation and research’ exemption, which has been abused by stag hunts to avoid prosecution for illegal hunting;

· An increase in the penalty for illegal hunting to include custodial sentences, in line with other wildlife crime legislation.

When criminals find ways to avoid prosecution and develop powerful alibis that prevent a perfectly good piece of legislation from fulfilling the aim Parliament intended for it, something needs to be done to solve this enforcement problem.

To keep the ban we need to improve the law.  

--JC

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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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