A long-running legal battle against the ban on fox hunting will be heard by the House of Lords on Wednesday, in what will be the start of an appeal that will consider several legal challenges that have been made under European human rights and trade laws.
What is this all about?
This is the result of legal action taken not long after the ban came into force in February 2005. Supporters of hunting claim that the Hunting Act is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Their case centres on Article 8: the right to respect for private and family life; Article 11: freedom of assembly and association; and Article 14: prohibition of discrimination. A legal challenge is also being made on the grounds that the Act may be in breach of European laws on the free movement of goods and services. The cases have already been rejected by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
Who is behind this?
The legal battle is being waged by the Countryside Alliance and the Union of Country Sports Workers, along with various individuals who claim their livelihoods have been affected by the hunting laws.
What do anti-hunt campaigners think?
The attempts to overturn the Act in the courts have been dismissed by the RSPCA, which cites a series of unsuccessful challenges that have been brought by the pro-hunting lobby. They say the Act has a legitimate aim and is proportionate and justified under European human rights law. The RSPCA has made legal submissions outlining the reasons for the ban on hunting with dogs.
What is at stake?
The future of the Hunting Act itself could be at risk. If the appeal is successful on human rights grounds, the Countryside Alliance claims the court could declare the Act to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, although the Act would remain in force. However, if the court rules that the Act is in breach of European laws on free trade then it could be removed from the statute book, according to pro-hunting campaigners.
What are their chances of success?
Given the political pressure that eventually forced the Act through, they would appear to be slim. Government officials say they are confident that the Act has a sound legal basis and point to previous failed attempts by the Countryside Alliance to challenge the validity of the Parliament Act 1949, which established the procedures under which the Hunting Act was passed.
What happens next?
The Lords will make their ruling after the appeal ends on 18 October. If the appeal is rejected, the Countryside Alliance may pursue the case at the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile, animal welfare groups will continue to lobby for greater enforcement of the Hunting Act, amid concerns that some hunts are continuing to break the law.