Scots law lord calls for tightening of fox hunting legislation
A report on fox hunting by Scottish judge Lord Bonomy finds "basis for suspecting" illegal hunting still takes place and that current legislation complicates the prosecution of offences
Fox hunting with dogs - Image credit: Bethany Egan via Flickr
There is a “basis for suspecting” that illegal fox hunting is still taking place in Scotland, according to a new report by a Scots law lord.
The report by Scottish judge Lord Bonomy, published today, calls for changes to the laws around fox hunting, which he said “complicate unduly” the investigation and prosecution of offences.
Lord Bonomy was appointed in December 2015 to look into whether the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 provides enough protection for wild animals, in practice foxes, while still allowing for control of numbers.
But no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under the 2002 act, which bans “deliberately” hunting a wild animal with dogs, but allows for a number of exceptions, including using dogs to flush the animal from cover.
Nearly 300 submissions were received as part of the inquiry.
Lord Bonomy’s report makes a series of recommendations for improvements to the current “complicated” legislation.
These include clarification of the language of the 2002 act and consideration of the appointment of independent hunt monitors to observe hunts on a random basis, as well as a voluntary code of practice for the conduct of hunts.
He recommends too that section one of the act is amended to say that either a person who intentionally or recklessly hunts a wild mammal with a dog commits an offence or that a person who uses, causes or permits a dog to hunt a wild mammal commits an offence.
Further recommendations include considering whether land owners should be held liable for illegal hunting taking place on their land and extending the time limit for prosecutions.
The report follows just a few days after calls by two animal rights charities, OneKInd and the League Against Cruel Sports, for the fox hunting ban to be strengthened, after evidence was found that a fox had been killed by dogs at a Lanarkshire hunt earlier this month.
A post-mortem on the animal by SAC Consulting: Veterinary Services (SACCVS) found “severe trauma consistent with that caused by a dog or dogs”.
And last month Police Scotland called the current hunting legislation “unworkable” because of the number of exceptions and loopholes.
Accepting the report, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “The Scottish Government recognised concerns about whether the legislation on fox-hunting is working properly – that is why we asked Lord Bonomy to carry out this detailed work.
“Back in 2002, Scotland led the way in addressing animal welfare concerns and we remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of welfare for our wild animals.
“We will now carefully consider the findings, with a view to responding in 2017.”
The report has been welcomed by animal rights charities and the Scottish Greens.
Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Mark Ruskell said: “Current legislation has never been fit for purpose and those who value barbaric tradition over animal welfare and rule of law have found many loopholes to exploit.
“Lord Bonomy’s report is clear that changes are needed to introduce greater restriction and monitoring of hunting and that landowners should also be liable for breaches of the law.
“The Scottish Government must act fast to bring amending legislation to parliament and prevent further animal cruelty from taking place.”
Robbie Marsland, the Director of the League Against Cruel Sports, Scotland said: “This review set out to evaluate whether the current law banning hunting in Scotland works.
“Lord Bonomy’s robust and detailed examination clearly shows that it doesn’t, and that he agrees with us and Police Scotland that improvements are essential if it is to stand any chance of fulfilling its purpose of protecting wild animals.”
He added: “The ball is now firmly in the Scottish Government’s court.
“Public opinion in Scotland wants to see fox hunting banned, the Government thought they had banned it and now Lord Bonomy and Police Scotland reveal that the hunts are running a coach and horses through the legislation.
“In short, the law isn’t fit for purpose and, in keeping with the commitments made by the First Minister to strengthen the law if it were necessary, we look to the Government to strengthen the law before the end of the current fox hunting season in March 2017.”
With illegal traps often placed in remote locations, investigators have previously struggled to collect evidence of wrong doing
While the overall number of recorded crimes fell from 284 instances in 2014/15 to 261 in 2015/16, the number of crimes involving hunting with dogs rose to its highest in five years
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