Last-ditch challenge fails to halt hunting ban

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The Independent Online

A renewed attempt by the Countryside Alliance to overturn Parliament's ban on hunting with dogs failed in the Court of Appeal today.

A renewed attempt by the Countryside Alliance to overturn Parliament's ban on hunting with dogs failed in the Court of Appeal today.

Three senior judges headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, rejected argument that the 1949 Parliament Act, which MPs used to force through the Hunting Act in the face of opposition from the House of Lords, was invalid.

The Hunting Act, which outlaws fox-hunting, deer-hunting and hare-coursing with dogs, is set to come into force on Friday.

The appeal judges described the challenge to the Act as "unusual, and in modern times probably unprecedented".

"In this respect, this case is no ordinary public law case and the judgment deals with an issue of considerable constitutional importance."

Sir Sydney Kentridge QC, for three hunt supporters funded by the Alliance, argued at a hearing on February 8 that Parliament had never correctly voted for the 1949 Act which was therefore unlawful.

The 1949 Act was an amendment to the 1911 Parliament Act which reduced the time the Lords could hold up a Bill going through Parliament.

Any legislation introduced by invoking the Act was equally unlawful, Sir Sydney told Lord Woolf, sitting with the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips, and Lord Justice May.

But the judges dismissed the Alliance's appeal against a High Court ruling on January 28 in which Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Collins said it was clear that the 1949 Act was valid and the proposed hunting ban lawful.

The appeal judges ruled that MPs did have the power to amend the 1911 Act, the 1949 Act was therefore valid and dismissed the appeal.

The judges refused the Alliance permission to appeal to the House of Lords.

Sir Sidney said an urgent application for permission would be made direct to the Law Lords.

In the meantime, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, did not object to an injunction "staying" any prosecutions.

But the judges refused the injunction application.

Lord Woolf said of the Attorney General: "We don't think it is right he should seek to hide behind the courts in this matter."

It was for the court to decide whether to exercise its jurisdiction to grant a stay, he said.

There were no proceedings at the moment on which a stay could be granted "and we cannot think it would be appropriate for us to grant a stay in these circumstances".

Commons Speaker Michael Martin invoked the 1949 Parliament Act for only the fourth time in 55 years to get the Hunting Act in place.

He intervened after peers rejected a final opportunity for compromise with MPs by voting down a proposal to delay the ban until July 2006.

The furore surrounding the hunting ban looks set to continue right up to and beyond Friday's deadline.

On Monday, violence erupted as animal rights protesters clashed with spectators at the last major hare-coursing event before the sport is made illegal.

Three people were arrested at the final Waterloo Cup, which was moved forward by a week to avoid the ban.

About 200 protesters attended the event in Great Altcar, Lancashire, to demonstrate against the sport, in which a pair of competing greyhounds chase a hare.

They were met by hundreds of jeering spectators who waved fox tails and threw missiles.

Mounted police used their horses to drive back a group of around 20 spectators who tried to charge at the protesters.

It has also emerged that thousands of people are planning to defy the Hunting Bill by arranging hunts this weekend.

Hundreds of packs of fox hounds, hare hounds, deer hounds and other hunts and clubs are planning to meet on Saturday.

The Countryside Alliance said the meets will be widely advertised and held at locations well placed to allow everyone who supports freedom and tolerance to support their local hunt.

Hunts nationwide will also make it clear that they intend to hunt within the law and will have gained permission from landowners to carry out legal hunting activities.

Tim Bonner, spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said: "To everyone looking at what is happening on the 19th it will look, sound and smell just like hunting did before.

"There will be people on horses and hundreds of farmers, hounds - and foxes will be killed."

The Alliance says compensation should be paid to those people who could potentially lose out as a result of the ban, such as farriers, saddlers and feed merchants.

The group has also pledged to test loopholes in the ban after it comes into force.

It says 50,000 people have said they are prepared to break the ban and continue hunting "in the full knowledge they will be arrested".