Letter: Howard's Bill will turn ramblers into criminals

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The Independent Online
Sir: You are right to call on the Government to beat a tactical retreat from its present plans to turn trespass into a criminal offence (leading article, 25 July). Ministers now have the summer to ponder this option seriously, before the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill returns to the House of Commons in October.

We in the Ramblers' Association have received legal advice to the effect that the 'aggravated trespass' clauses of the Bill could turn innocent walkers into criminals - for climbing a Scottish mountain on private land, for example. The Law Society of Scotland has expressed similar concern.

Ministers reject this view, and they are not prepared to err on the side of caution by amending or withdrawing their proposals. The main reason for this is ministers' obsessive desire to protect the interests of those who participate in fox hunting and other field sports. Other interests - such as those of more peaceful pastimes like walking and climbing - appear to count for very little in their eyes.

This impression is confirmed by the fact that ministers have neglected election promises to introduce legislation that would be beneficial to informal outdoor recreation - such as new laws on national parks, common land and hedgerow protection.

It is very sad that the Government prefers to give priority to measures like criminalising trespass, which was never promised at election time and which is deeply unpopular now.

Yours sincerely,

ALAN MATTINGLY

Director

The Ramblers' Association

London, SW8

25 July

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