Our letter to Hunt Masters

This week, we have written to the master of every registered hunt in England and Wales, to help them cut through the spin issued by the Countryside Alliance. Here’s the text of the letter the hunts have received.

Dear Master

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and Hunt Monitoring

In recent weeks there have been some articles in the press and on websites which may mislead hunt supporters into believing that hunt monitoring is in some way illegal. These articles are based on a misunderstanding of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and the relationship between the police and hunt monitors.

RIPA primarily deals with the interception of telecommunications and public postal services. The provisions of RIPA recognise the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Article 8 of which deals with the right to respect for private and family life and requires that:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right, except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Part II of RIPA, by creating a strict regulatory framework, provides for surveillance and the use of covert human intelligence sources by organisations such as the police and local authorities who are governed by the Act. That surveillance can be directed, covert and intrusive. Police and other authorities covered by the provisions of the Act have to put in place procedures for the issuing of approvals which show and record why the surveillance being carried out, is a necessary and proportionate response to the concerns, and to the evidence already to hand.

Where a police force or other public authority instructs a member of the public to carry out that surveillance on their behalf, RIPA approval procedures do apply.

Members of the public, and non governmental organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports are not bound by the provisions of RIPA as long as they are not acting as controlled or contracted agents of the police or any other public authority.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have confirmed to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that where the police are provided with surveillance and other evidence by non governmental organisations, such as the League Against Cruel Sports, they should use that information and investigate further. They have further requested to be informed if there is any evidence of police forces refusing to accept such evidence. The CPS have also made it clear that they will prosecute Hunting Act and related offences as a matter of public interest if the evidence is sufficient.

Some recent press articles and web postings have gone as far as to suggest that the police should not accept evidence of wrong doing from people monitoring the activities of hunts and their supporters and some have even suggested that such monitoring activities are in fact illegal. This is simply not true.

The law in these matters is very clear. Peaceful monitoring of hunts and hunters is a lawful and legal activity. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have made it very clear in their recent judgment that hunting is a public activity and that there is no right to act in an illegal manner on privately owned land. The CPS have made it very clear that the evidence gathered by people monitoring hunts and their supporters can and will be used by the police and the CPS to prosecute wrong doing if they suspect that to be the case.

The League is concerned that, having read some of the misleading and inaccurate reports in the press and on the web, hunt supporters may mistakenly believe that the monitors are themselves committing an offence when they monitor, and this is not the case. Furthermore the League is also concerned some in the hunting community may think that evidence of wrong doing cannot be used by the police and the CPS, if it is obtained by monitors or members of the public, and may feel more able to break the law without legal consequence.

Given the increasing public profile of the hunting issue because of the forthcoming General Election, the League is concerned that in the field relationships between those who support and those who oppose the Hunting Act will deteriorate. Incorrect allegations that monitors are committing a crime by monitoring will further inflame passions and there is a consequential risk of public disorder and assaults on lawful monitors as a result.

The League requests that in the interests of public order and the prevention of assaults on monitors and other members of the public, that you advise hunt followers and supporters that:

• hunt monitoring and filming by monitors and observers is a lawful activity

• evidence of illegality gathered by the monitors can be used by the police and the CPS to prosecute any person thought to be in breach of the relevant legislation

• road blocking, abuse and intimidation of members of the public, including monitors, are road traffic and public order offences respectively

• the use of flashing lights and beacons (generally to indicate the presence and location of monitors) is a Road Traffic Act offence, and

• the Hunting Act offences apply to anyone who is engaged in, actively allows, or facilitates or permits an act of illegal hunting.

The League has instructed its monitors to avoid confrontation with hunts and their supporters and to ensure that they do not interfere with the lawful activities of exempt hunting, trail following and hound exercises.

In essence, the key factor for consideration must be that those who hunt within the law have nothing to hide from hunt monitors.

Finally, in order to assist you in fully appraising your staff and followers of the law, I enclose a copy of the guidance issued by the CPS to Chief Constables and ACPO.

Trusting that you will agree to assist with upholding the law.

Yours sincerely

Douglas Batchelor
Chief Executive

We think that makes the situation clear – though no doubt we’ll have yet more spin in an attempt to confuse the situation even further. Plus ça change!

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