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Hunts are now innocent until proven guilty

Pro-hunting groups claim that a recent High Court ruling on the definitions contained in the controversial 2004 Hunting Act will make it harder to prosecute huntsmen.

They also claimed that it is less likely that shooters will be caught out by the Act’s complicated hunting exemptions. On 4 February, the High Court rejected an appeal by the Crown Prosecution Service against a judgement that acquitted the first huntsman prosecuted under the Act, Tony Wright.

In November 2007, he had his conviction overturned after arguing that farmers had asked the Exmoor hunt to kill foxes to reduce losses during the lambing season and that he had legally used two hounds to find the fox and a shotgun to kill it.

Two High Court judges were asked to clarify the definition of hunting. The judges ruled that the law banning hunting did not include “searching” for wild animals to flush them out.

This means there can only be a prosecution where there is an actual pursuit of a wild mammal. The judges also said it was for prosecutors to prove to the criminal standard that the defendant was not covered by exemptions.

The Countryside Alliance’s Tim Bonner explained what this means for shooters:
“In practical terms the ruling makes it much less likely that people using the terrier work exemption to shoot foxes in order to protect gamebirds will face prosecution. The exemption has a series of complicated conditions and if the court had ruled the other way the burden would have been on the individual carrying out the terrier work to prove he had fulfilled those conditions. Tony Wright’s victory means that the burden will be on the prosecution to prove that someone was hunting illegally.”

Mr Bonner added: “Repeal of the Hunting Act is becoming a probability rather
than a possibility and victory on hunting will protect shooting for a generation.”

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