If hard cases make bad law, new Labour's attempts to ban foxhunting have been a spectacular example. The Hunting Act 2004 has proved virtually unenforceable: only five people connected to hunts have been convicted of any offence. The Act has been counterproductive: the Countryside Alliance says that the number of people hunting has actually risen, by 11 per cent, in the past four years. Now it turns out that the very nub of the Act was equally misconceived. The High Court yesterday brought the Government, and hunt saboteurs, to bay.Which, I seem to recall, was being said at the time, but the MSM were in the tank for Blair (in a way they mostly aren’t for his hapless successor) and these arguments never got much of an airing.
But though the wheels of justice grind slow, they do grind exceedingly thoroughly:
Sir Anthony May and Mr Justice Maddison yesterday made three crucial rulings: first, that “hunting” a wild mammal under the Act was not the same as “searching for” an animal to stalk it or flush it out; second, that prosecutors must prove that hunting was “intentional” rather than “accidental”, to secure a conviction; and third, that it is for the prosecution to prove that defendants are not covered by exemptions to the ban, rather than for defendants to show they are exempt. This judgment will make it extremely difficult to mount any successful prosecution.Thus restoring an age-old concept of UK law – that the prosecution needs to prove your guilt, you do not need to prove your innocence. Let’s hope this concept spreads to those other illiberal laws NuLab has forced onto the statute books…
The ruling is a victory for Tony Wright, huntsman of the Exmoor Foxhounds, and the first man to be prosecuted for hunting foxes. It is also a victory for common sense.And we don’t get many of those.
So whatever your personal opinions of the morality (or otherwise) of foxhunting, let’s at least savour the overturning of this poorly-drafted, unenforceable law…
The 2004 Act came into force after seven years, a virtually unprecedented amount of debate on one issue. New Labour spent seven years talking to Islington about a sport that provided many countryside livelihoods. Ministers have now gone to ground, and are unlikely to break cover. Rightly so. The hunting ban was unnecessary meddling in an issue in which Parliament had no need to intervene.If only Parliament would confine itself to those areas they do have a need to intervene, we’d all be better off.
And we’d need a lot less of them too….