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Scottish Hunting Law Review Agrees with League and Police Scotland That Legislation Needs Strengthening

 Scottish law

The League Against Cruel Sports has welcomed the findings from Lord Bonomy’s robust and detailed review of the hunting ban in Scotland. The charity, one of several organisations to submit evidence for the review, now calls upon the Scottish Government to strengthen the law before the current fox hunting season closes at the end of March 2017.

The report published today found there to be considerable law-breaking being committed by hunts under the current ban. This led Lord Bonomy to make the recommendation that the law should be both clarified, strengthened and properly enforced to close the loopholes currently exploited by hunts to chase and kill foxes and other wild mammals with packs of dogs in Scotland.

The review made the following recommendations:

  • Amending the Act to make detection, investigation and prosecution easier. This will deal with a number of scenarios where foxes are killed ‘accidentally’ by hunts but where it is difficult to prosecute because of the difficulties in proving intent. Lord Bonomy recommends adopting a ‘recklessness’ clause long-advocated by the League. It will now be up to hunters to prove they were not breaking the law.
  • Forcing hunts to hand over the identities of hunt participants to the Police in advance of hunt meets, sending independent investigators to carry out random visits to hunts to ensure they are not breaking the law and their observations admissible to be used as evidence in court, and making any landowner who permits illegal hunting on their land liable for prosecution.
  • The report highlights the recommendation of Police Scotland that “offences need to be simplified and terms expanded. Exceptions to the offence to ‘deliberately hunt a wild animal with a dog’ are multiple and provide opportunities for exploitation by those who continually and deliberately offend.” Police Scotland, in their submission to the review, added that “the aim of any amendments to existing legislation must be the absolute necessity to ensure that the welfare of the mammal involved in the primary concern on all occasions”. It also recommends an extension be made to the time limit for bringing prosecutions under the Act.

Welcoming the review and its findings, Robbie Marsland, the Director of the League Against Cruel Sports, Scotland said:

“This review set out to evaluate whether the current law banning hunting in Scotland works. Lord Bonomy’s robust and detailed examination clearly shows that it doesn’t, and that he agrees with us and Police Scotland that improvements are essential if it is to stand any chance of fulfilling its purpose of protecting wild animals.”

“Lord Bonomy has come up with a set of new recommendations that  we believe could severely limit the opportunity of mounted hunts to encourage packs of hounds to chase and kill wild mammals across the Scottish Countryside.

“Lord Bonomy and Police Scotland agree there is abuse and exploitation of the current law, which the review proposes to address with robust new legislation and stronger enforcement. This will not only change the face of hunting in Scotland – it sends a powerful signal to Westminster how illegal hunting can be tackled forcefully.

“The ball is now firmly in the Scottish Government’s court.  Public opinion in Scotland wants to see fox hunting banned, the Government thought they had banned it and now Lord Bonomy and Police Scotland reveal that the hunts are running a coach and horses through the legislation.  In short, the law isn’t fit for purpose and, in keeping with the commitments made by the First Minister to strengthen the law if it were necessary, we look to the Government to strengthen the law before the end of the current fox hunting season in March 2017.”

Today’s review comes just after the discovery of a dead fox killed by hounds from the Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Hunt. An autopsy revealed the animal suffered extensively before it died as well as providing evidence that showed that although the fox had been shot, it is highly unlikely this was the cause of death. The autopsy concluded that “The fox had suffered severe trauma consistent with that caused by a dog or dogs“.1

Scotland first banned hunting with dogs in 2002 with the introduction of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act. More than a decade later however, the law which set out to end the cruel sport has failed due to a number of loopholes which have been exposed both during the review and by the League during its 2015/16 investigation into Scottish hunts.

An independent review of the Act led by senior judge Lord Bonomy, was ordered by Scottish ministers last year after it saw footage obtained by the League during last year’s 2014/15 hunt season. The footage revealed highly questionable behaviour from half of Scotland’s hunts, including absolutely no sign of any legitimate ‘flushing to guns’ – which is what Scottish hunts claim to do so to abide by the current law

The aim of the review was to ascertain whether the current legislation provides the necessary level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals while providing for the control of their populations when necessary.

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