Our new year’s resolution

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.

Happy New Year! I thought I’d begin my first note of the new year with a beautiful photograph taken on our Baronsdown Sanctuary yesterday. Our Head of Operations, Paul Tillsley, is a very talented photographer and he often provides us with some of the most stunning photographs of wildlife.

The usual Boxing Day activities of the pro hunt lobby got much the same coverage as usual. As far as the media were concerned it was for the most part, a re-run of previous years’ stories. The one interesting feature was that Hilary Benn chose Boxing Day to announce a Labour Party run ‘Back the Ban’ campaign.

The hunters made the usual claims about hunting being more popular than ever before, but completely failed to explain why it was therefore necessary to repeal the Hunting Act. No change there.

One of the things that I found interesting and instructive was that James Barrington chose to write to Labour Party candidates making much of his now very distant past with the League advising them about what he believes to be the reality of hunting. James Barrington’s reality seems to be that “it’s the dogs wot do it”, and so that’s alright! In his letter he completely fails to mention his links to the Countryside Alliance and the Middle Way Group, or that his PO Box address redirects to an office in the House of Commons.

The Christmas “silly season” over with, things seem to be hotting up on the General Election front. Labour has made its position clear, via Hilary Benn, and that is that it supports the Hunting Act. The Conservative Party has so far stuck to its earlier pledge that it will allow a free vote on whether or not there is a will in the new Parliament following the Election to repeal the Act. The Liberal Democrat candidates for election are individually making their position clear but have yet to agree on a party policy statement.

One of the things that it is essential is to have at the front of our minds why it is that the Hunting Act is so important. This may sound an odd thing to say, but sometimes in the heat and enthusiasm of a campaign people lose sight of the why, as opposed to the what, they are campaigning for.

The High Court very succinctly reported on the legal reasons that the Hunting Act was passed. They said, “Hunting with dogs was cruel and the bans were justified as they aimed at preventing disorder, protecting health and morals, and the rights and freedoms of others”. The hunters keep on saying that it hasn’t been proven that hunting is cruel, conveniently ignoring the High Court and the Law Lords and Parliament, all of whom have concluded that hunting for sport causes unnecessary suffering and is therefore cruel. Lord Burns in his inquiry concluded that hunting compromises the welfare of the hunted animal. Parliament has concluded that there is no necessity in hunting for sport and the European Court of Human Rights has concluded that people do not have a “human right” to hunt for sport if a Sovereign Parliament such as the UK has decided that the activity is morally objectionable and has banned it.

What the League has always been against is the so called sport of setting dogs onto animals. To organise the chasing and killing of animals for sport is self evidently cruel because it causes unnecessary suffering. The League is opposed to activities where the purpose of which is to cause unnecessary suffering.

The key point in all this is the distinction between what James Barrington is arguing, namely that it is the dogs that hunt and not people, and what we are saying which is that the hunters are responsible for the actions of their hounds and terriers. They take them to the place where the activity occurs, they train them to find and follow a scent, and they train them to kill what they chase down. Hunting as the courts and Parliament have affirmed is an intentional human act; it is not some canine natural activity or misdemeanour.

Our opposition to hunting and coursing with dogs is because it causes unnecessary suffering. Actions on education, conservation and support for legislation which are aimed at improving the welfare of animals and at protecting them from unnecessary suffering are wholly proper activities for a charity like the League. While the politicians will argue about a whole range of issues in the forthcoming general election, it is important that we stick to our issues and do not get sucked into issues that are nothing to do with the League.

The Countryside Alliance, as many of you will have seen in the papers, seems to be up to its old tricks with regard to its interpretation of the law as it applies to monitoring. In recent years there have been claims that monitors are not allowed to film the activities of hunts in public, now their latest wheeze is a claim that the police should not be allowed to use evidence gained by monitors.

The Countryside Alliance has written to Chief Constables up and down the country advising them that they should not be accepting and using evidence gathered by monitors recording the activities of hunts. They are citing an Act of Parliament (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) which refers to constraints on the covert surveillance of private individuals by the police and other public authorities and a magistrates court pre trial evidence decision as being the main reasons why the police should not accept such evidence. This is a legal nonsense because the League is not in that sense a public body and is not bound by RIPA as the police are.

What is all the more interesting about the latest approach to the police by the Countryside Alliance is the sheer audacity of it. Here we have a group saying that while the police may be provided with evidence of a crime, here are the reasons why they should not use that evidence of a crime to investigate or to prosecute a criminal!

For any respectable and supposedly law abiding group to be openly admitting that there is evidence of what may be illegality, and to be advising the police that the evidence should be ignored is nothing short of a scandal. It strikes at the basic principles of fairness and justice to argue that evidence go in the public interest should not be put before the courts and the public when it comes to establishing the truth and ensuring justice.

It is a basic principle of law that truth should out. It is the role of the police to ensure that truth does out, and the CPS to ensure that all the evidence is put before the court so that justice may be done The law should not be used to pervert the course of justice. It is to be hoped that despite the blandishments of the Countryside Alliance, no self respecting policeman or court will tolerate criminal wrongs being cloaked and hidden from view by claims of rights exercised in pursuit of a crime.

Our new year’s resolution is very clear: to Keep Cruelty History.

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