In July, the UK’s High Court rejected a second appeal by fox hunting supporters to overturn the 2004 Hunting Act. That act banned fox hunting with dogs.
In their appeal, the Countryside Alliance argued that the Hunting Act violated the European Convention on Human Rights because it was a “sectarian measure.” Essentially, they argued that the hunting ban was an irrational, ideologically-motivated law akin to, say, a ban on a specific religious practice just because it was practiced by a minority of citizens.
Countryside Alliance’s lawyer, Richard Gordon, had argued that,
What emerges strongly, however the argument is put, is, we suggest, the very divisive nature of the legislation.
Many members of the House of Commons voting on the issue obviously objected strongly to hunting on doctrinal grounds – that is clear.
But we say strong feelings cannot be, and are not in law, a substitute for the exercise that has to be undertaken before Convention rights can be legitimately interfered with.
. . .
We say, if one takes away the strength of feeling from the furor over hunting, very little is left in terms of law, and a total ban of this kind is not justified.
The High Court soundly rejected that line of reasoning. Justices May and Moses said that there was varying opinion about whether or not foxes suffer more when hunted by dogs vs. when they are shot, but that the legislature had a legitimate reason to address this issue. They said,
We consider that there was sufficient material available to the House of Commons for them to conclude that hunting with dogs is cruel.
. . .
[It was] reasonably open to the majority of the democratically-elected House of Commons to conclude that this measure was necessary in the democratic society which had elected them.
The Countryside Alliance bemoaned the verdict, with its chairman John Jackson telling the BBC,
The judges have accepted that there is interference with some of the claimants’ rights, and that the Hunting Act will have a substantial general adverse effect on the lives of many in the rural community.
However, the court, ignoring events in the Commons and the Lords, appears to have proceeded on the assumption that Parliament had a legitimate aim and has itself then speculated on what that may have been.
Whether the court is right to have proceeded in this way is plainly a controversial question./p>
Animal rights advocates, on the other hand, were very pleased. John Cooper, chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports, told The Guardian,
We welcome this recognition that there is no human right to be cruel. The Hunting Act is a popular act, the ban is being enforced and, most importantly, animals are no longer able to be abused in the name of this barbaric bloodsport. This is a resounding defeat for the hunters, who need to move forward and accept the democratic will of parliament and the majority of the general public, and learn to take non for an answer.
The Countryside Alliance is still waiting for the Law Lords in the House of Lords to rule on its appeal of the High Court’s February rejection of its argument that the Hunting Act is in violation of Great Britain’s Parliament Act.
There are likely to be further appeals, but at the moment, the odds of the fox hunting advocates actually prevailing seems pretty slim.
High court rejects hunting ban challenge. Press Association, July 29, 2005.
Hunt campaign loses court battle. The BBC, July 29, 2005.
Hunting ban ‘a sectarian measure’. Liverpool Daily Post, July 5, 2005.