Yesterday Scotland’s Parliament voted 67 to 37 to ban the hunting of foxes with dogs, but the bizarre finale to a process that began in 2000 left numerous questions as to whether or not the law would survive legal appeals and whether or not it is enforceable as written.
In a flurry of legislative maneuvering, the Scottish Parliament considered no less than 107 amendments to the bill, adopting some and rejecting others in what the Glasgow Herald described as a last minute legislative scramble. The various amendments — and lack of a specific set of amendments — will likely leave the ban in legal limbo for several years.
The Protection of Wild Mammals Act provides for up to six months in jail and a 5,000 pound fine for anyone who takes part in a fox-hunt using dogs, engages in hare coursing, or participates in fox-baiting, Subcommittee on FOrests and Forests Health
Supporters of fox hunting are expected to mount a number of legal challenges to the bill, including one over the compensation that is to be given to people whose businesses and jobs will be lost due to the ban. Three amendments designed to offer compensation to such people were offered and all three were rejected. This is in contrast to Scotland’s ban on fur farms where it included a compensation package to fur farmers put out of work, even though there were no operating fur farms in Scotland.
The lack of any compensation opens the possibility that the ban violates the European Convention on Human Rights which forbids the government taking of property without compensation.
About 3,000 people are employed in jobs relating to mounted hunts in Scotland.
The bigger problem, though, is that the law has so many exceptions and loopholes that it is questionable whether or not it can be meaningfully enforced. There are exemptions for pest control, the bill requires prosecutors to prove an “intent to kill” a fox beyond a reasonable doubt, and there are plenty of similar legal ambiguities. As one British newspaper put it, the entire bill is one big gift to lawyers.
Which did not stop supporters of the ban from proclaiming this one of the most important acts in human history. Consider anti-hunting activist Graham Isdale’s comments to The Guardian about the ban,
This is one of those defining moments in the history of UK parliaments. It is a momentous occasion because Scotland is taking a lead in the UK, in the rest of Europe, and possibly in the rest of the world.
There is no denying, however, that the passage of the ban will put new pressure on Tony Blair and the Labor Party to follow-through on Blair’s 1999 promise to ban fox hunting posthaste. Labor, however, keeps finding excuses not to reintroduce a ban on hunting and is apparently wary of further alienating rural voters.
Edinburgh ban on blood sport raises pressure on Blair. Nigel Morris, The Independent (London), February 14, 2002.
Scotland bans fox-hunting. Kirsty Scott, The Guardian (London), February 14, 2002
Only the lawyers will benefit from this sorry mess. Alan Cochrane, The Daily Telegraph (London), February 13, 2002.
Sportsmen outfoxed as hunting ban is passed. Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2002.
Final scramble kills compensation; Struggle to deal with 107 amendments produces a shock. Frances Horsburgh, The Herald (Glasgow), February 14, 2002.
The ban on fox-hunting; Executive must intervene with compensation. The Herald (Glasgow), February 14, 2002.