Cruelty in Hunting Accusation Fails

Anti hunters score another own goal by admitting evidence would not stand up in court

It has in advertently been revealed that the League Against Cruel Sports charge of cruelty caused by hunting with dogs would fail in court under UK animal protection legislation.

In England and Wales it is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to animals. However, this law excludes wild animals. The hunting ban passed in 2004, explicitly banned use of hounds, without the need to prove it is cruel.

The League now wants to extend the ban to Northern Ireland. In fact, Northern Ireland has banned cruelty to any wild animal since 1972, when the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) was passed.

Lembit Öpik MP, Co-chair of the Middle Way Group said, “While the League could use the existing law in Northern Ireland to try and ban hunting with dogs by proving it is cruel, they steadfastly refuse to take this obvious route. It can only mean they don’t think they can prove hunting with dogs IS cruel. That’s hardly surprising, because any rational look at the facts shows hunting with dogs doesn’t cause undue suffering. I have long promoted the adoption of legislation like that in Northern Ireland, which bans all unnecessary to all animals, domestic or wild. It’s a great shame the pro-ban lobby won’t back this genuinely welfare oriented approach. They seem more motivated by prejudice against hunting, than by genuine concern for animal welfare. Their antics in Northern Ireland just prove it.”

Peter Luff MP, Co-chair of the Middle Way Group said, “Hunting and shooting has continued in Northern Ireland since 1972 with no cases of cruelty being successful or even brought, as far as I am aware. The League was either unaware of the law in Northern Ireland or they realised that their cruelty charge against hunting with dogs would fail. Either way, it is an embarrassing own goal for them.”

Baroness Golding, Co-chair of the Middle Way Group said, “Clearly, trying to convince MPs, who are fairly ignorant of hunting, was an easier route to take than putting together a case that would stand up in court. The anti hunters do not appear to have much faith in their own argument.”

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Note for Editors:

Explanatory note

In the latest Parliamentary Update sent to MPs, the League Against Cruel Sports refers to a new animal welfare group being formed in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The LACS representative in NI states:

“I very much hope that the new group will want to look at the peculiar anomaly which bans fox hunting in England, Wales and Scotland but not in N. Ireland.”

This simple statement is an important admission of failure for the anti hunting campaign, not only in Northern Ireland, but the UK as a whole.

To explain, the accepted definition of cruelty is the infliction of unnecessary suffering. It is the basis of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (1912 in Scotland), which has been the main animal welfare law in mainland Britain since that time. However, this law excluded all wild animals, apart from those that were held captive and thereby living under human control. The recent Animal Welfare Act 2006 again uses the term ‘unnecessary suffering’ as its definition of cruelty and also excludes animals living in a wild state.

It was correctly claimed by the anti hunting groups that they were unable to prosecute hunts for causing unnecessary suffering to wild mammals because of the exclusion of wild animals from the 1911 Act.

This was the reason for arguing for a specific hunting act. Had wild animals been covered by the Act, it would have been a matter for the prosecution to gather the evidence and bring its case to court, which would then decide upon whether or not unnecessary suffering had been caused.

In 1996, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act was passed (though not applying to Northern Ireland) giving limited protection to all wild mammals from certain actions which intentionally cause unnecessary suffering, such as the drowning, stoning, burning or impaling of an animal. Lawful hunting and shooting were activities excluded from the legislation. Removal of this exclusion was raised by the Burns Report as a possible alternative to a hunting ban. As the Report said, “In the absence of a ban, one possible legislative approach would be to remove the present exemptions for hunting in the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. This would be an important signal and give opponents of hunting a clearer opportunity to test their views about cruelty in the courts.” (para 9.39)

Lord Donoughue introduced an amendment Bill to the 1996 Act in the House of Lords, which removed the hunting and shooting exclusion and simplified the offence to the deliberate causing of undue suffering. Lembit Öpik MP introduced the same amendment Bill in the House of Commons. Had this Bill been successful it would have avoided the need for a hunting act.

The hunting world accepted that if unnecessary suffering could be proven in court, the activity concerned should not continue. The Countryside Alliance, the CLA and NFU all supported the principle of the Bill. The measure was not supported by the LACS, RSPCA and IFAW.

However, in Northern Ireland a law was passed in 1972, the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland), which granted protection not just to domestic and captive animals, but to ALL animals, wild included. This means that since that time it has been open to anyone to bring a case against a hunt for causing unnecessary suffering. Hunting with dogs continues in Northern Ireland to this day and no such case has ever been brought.

As the Hunting Act 2004 did not extend to Northern Ireland, the LACS now calls for a specific law in Northern Ireland to ban hunting with dogs, bringing it into line with England and Wales.

This is nothing short of an admission that the evidence LACS would be able to gather would be insufficient to pass the normal test of cruelty in a court of law. If such a case is unlikely to succeed in Northern Ireland, it is unlikely to succeed in England or Wales. It is possible that the LACS, RSPCA and IFAW understood this situation, hence their support for a specific hunting act and opposition to Lord Donoughue/Lembit Öpik’s wild mammals protection bill.

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