Time to ban fox hunting for good

Written by Robbie Marsland and Jennifer Dunn on 29 November 2016 in Comment

Associate feature: The League Against Cruel Sports argues it is time to strengthen the Protection of Wild Mammals Act

Fox - credit gingiber

Associate feature on behalf of the League Against Cruel Sports

Scotland was first in the UK to attempt to ban fox hunting in 2002, in the first Private Members’ Bill of the modern Scottish Parliament. The Bill’s process through the Parliament wasn’t easy, with amendments being added that anti-hunt campaigners feared would make it extremely difficult to enforce.

Their fears were realised – for years it’s been suspected that Protection of Wild Mammals Act 2002 didn’t really do what it was meant to do. So the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland decided to find out what was really going on. 

A team of undercover investigators were sent out to monitor the activities of the 10 registered mounted fox hunts in Scotland.  They say they go “flushing to guns” three times a week between September and March.

Flushing to guns is supposed to be a way of shooting foxes.  

The idea is that they use a pack of 30 or so hounds to scare foxes out into the open to be shot by waiting gunmen. The worry was that once out with a pack of around 30 or more dogs, huntsmen, whippers-in, terrier men, mounted and foot followers, there would be little to stop a hunt from encouraging their hounds to chase foxes across the Scottish countryside. But no, the hunts insisted, they were simply flushing to guns.

The results of the League’s 2014 hunting season investigation revealed that there wasn’t a gun in sight.  Day after day, the League’s footage showed huntsmen casting their hounds across the countryside searching for foxes.  On several occasions foxes were seen being chased.

The films were shown on the media and to a specially convened meeting of MSPs in the Holyrood Parliament. The then Environment Minister, Aileen McLeod said she was concerned by what she had seen and asked for the situation to be reviewed.

Shortly afterwards, the Westminster government attempted to effectively demolish the fox hunting laws in England and Wales. The Tory majority is slender and hunting is traditionally an issue on which free votes are granted. 

Instead of an outright repeal, the Westminster government planned to amend the English and Welsh Hunting Act to be broadly similar to that of the Protection of Wild Mammals Act (Scotland), to allow flushing to guns in England and Wales.  The hope was that the SNP would abstain as is was an English matter, and also the change would harmonise the laws across England, Wales and Scotland.

However, based on the fact that they were currently committed to review the legislation in Scotland the SNP announced they would vote against changes to the English and Welsh Act.

This led to the SNP enhancing the Government review of the Scottish legislation and an independent process was drawn up to be chaired by one of Scotland’s leading lawyers – Lord Bonomy.  The Bonomy review called for submissions to be made by the end of March 2015, thus allowing another hunt season to take place without any changes being made.

The League took the opportunity to undertake another investigation into the 2015 season. We believed that, this time around, the hunts would be flushing to guns. However, their behaviour had not noticeably changed. One incident we filmed has led to an ongoing case in the Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

The League took part in the Bonomy review, submitting over a hundred hours of footage to the Bonomy review to prove that hunts were not flushing to guns. The League recommended that the law should be strengthened to remove their opportunity to use this excuse as a false alibi.

Police Scotland also made a submission to Lord Bonomy. They concluded that the current law is “unworkable” and “provides opportunities for exploitation by those who continually and deliberately offend”.

As one of a few people who gave personal evidence to Lord Bonomy I can testify that he was rigorous and robust in his questioning. We even went out and looked at a hunt “flushing to guns”.  Although a shot was heard and a fox was said to have been shot, there were long periods when we witnessed a huntsman encouraging a pack of hounds to search through gorse without the presence of a single gun.

On 21 November, Lord Bonomy revealed his findings. He concluded that the law was being broken and recommended it needed clarification and amending. Whilst some media attention has concentrated on his calls for voluntary protocols and independent monitors, his most important recommendations revolve around strengthening the Act and clarifying definitions of what fox hunting is, who should prove what, who and when offenders can be found guilty and what sanctions they should face.

His proposals also include a vicarious liability office, and for an extension to the period of time for which a prosecution can be brought against hunts.

The Scottish Government have said they will consider the report and put proposed changes out to consultation “in 2017”. 

Scottish public opinion knows what should happen next - 76 per cent say they want to see hunting really banned. Police Scotland knows what should happen next. They say the present exemptions provide an opportunity to those who want to continually and deliberately offend the law and it is unenforceable and should be clarified. The League Scotland knows what should happen next. It spent two years carefully documenting Scottish hunts flouting the law.

Fox hunting is cruel, unnecessary and repugnant. There is no place for it in Scotland or anywhere else. Now is the time to really ban it – for good.

To support the campaign, please sign the petition

 

Robbie Marsland, is the director and Jennifer Dunn is the senior parliamentary officer of the League Against Cruel Sports, Scotland ​

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