The Government’s definition of hunting could be turned on its head after two West Country hunts appeared in a High Court test case in London last month to define the term.

The Exmoor Foxhounds and the Devon and Somerset Staghounds went to court to help define the word and how the law on exemptions from the ban should be applied.

It is thought the outcome of the case, which is expected early this year, could have major implications for several hunts with trials on hold. It will also impact on dog owners.

The Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) Kerry Barker told judges the court’s

guidance was needed on whether the term to “hunt” a wild mammal, as it appears in the 2004 Hunting Act, includes the activity of “searching for” an animal to stalk or flush it out. Mr Barker said: “If searching for a wild mammal with dogs is not illegal, then it is difficult to see how Parliament’s intention of preventing cruelty and bringing an end to the sport of hunting can be met.”

Philip Mott QC, appearing for the huntsmen, argued that reversing the burden of proof, as the CPS definition does, would cause a serious imbalance at trial and result in “a substantial infringement” of the normal presumption that a defendant was “innocent until proven guilty”.

Mr Mott also argued that the word “hunting” should not be extended to include “searching”. He told the court: “If ‘hunting’ is interpreted widely to include ‘searching’ and the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove an exemption, that burden would be even more oppressive.”

The rest of this article appears in 8 January issue of Shooting Times.

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