The collapse of the Hunting Act case against Ullswater huntsman John Harrison in Penrith Magistrates Court last week marks the end of any serious efforts by the anti-hunt movement to show that the Act works. It reinforces the need for repeal, a measure that we believe has important and positive consequences as a whole, as well as wider and significant libertarian benefits.
For the first time since Tony Wright of the Exmoor Foxhounds was summonsed to face a private prosecution by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) in November 2005 no huntsman, member of hunt staff, master or anyone else connected to a hunt is currently facing prosecution.
In the last four years nine different hunts have faced prosecution under the Act. Three resulted in convictions, three collapsed before they got to court and three resulted in all defendants being acquitted. There were no successful prosecutions of hunts in either the 2008/09 or 2009/10 hunting seasons.
A small band of professional animal rights activists have been employed by LACS and IFAW to collect evidence of illegal hunting since the Act came into force. They have spent thousands of hours filming dozens of hunts yet the end result is negligible. There have been over 40,000 days hunting since February 2005 and less than a handful of convictions. During that time however dozens of huntsman have had to answer pointless, vindictive allegations and thousands of hours of police time have been wasted. However, none of this is an excuse for complacency, or lack of a political resolution.
As I have said before the case for repeal is distinct from the case for hunting. There was never any justification for the ban, but the case for getting rid of the Hunting Act is stronger even than the argument for hunting. However uncomfortable anyone is with hunting itself, defending this law is now impossible, as can be seen from the growing number of anti-hunting activists and MPs who are conceding that the law does not work. It has failed at every level and as there can be no reason for allowing such a bad law to remain on the Statute Book. Repealing the Hunting Act would be a public service and one that the next Government must address as soon as it possibly can. Then the police can return to policing real crime and the courts can get back to trying real criminals.