British Hunters Begin Legal Battle, Protests

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

London ( - Government officials have decided that foxhunting will be illegal in Scotland from the beginning of August, confirming a law that pro-hunting activists say will destroy the Scottish rural economy.

Legislators in the regional Scottish Parliament approved the ban in February and from Aug. 1 anyone caught hunting foxes or any other wild mammal with dogs will be subject to fines and up to six months in jail. Landowners allowing hunting on their property could also face prosecution.

Scottish Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie signed the legislation and earlier indicated his intention to enact the law before the start of the hunting season in September.

Allan Murray, director of the Scottish branch of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said he had asked regional lawmakers to delay implementation of the law until the completion of a legal challenge.

"The announcement shows clearly that the executive is not interested in listening to the voice of rural Scotland," Murray said. "It is yet another example of the contempt with which the countryside is treated by our politicians."

"People in all walks of life in the countryside will be affected by this legislation. Some will lose their homes, jobs and their businesses because of it," he said.

Animal rights campaigners, on the other hand, welcomed the decision.

"This day has been a long time coming," said Les Ward, chairman of the Scottish Campaign Against Hunting With Dogs. "The brutal and barbaric blood sport of hunting with hounds, where dogs are used to chase, terrify, attack and kill foxes, is now at an end in Scotland."

Two-pronged battle

Pro-hunting campaigners are now fighting a two-front war, attempting to challenge the Scottish law through the courts while at the same time mobilizing supporters in an attempt to deter the British government from introducing legislation to ban the sport in most of the rest of the United Kingdom.

The British government is currently in the midst of a six-month consultation period that may result in the introduction of a bill in Parliament to ban foxhunting in England and neighboring Wales.

The consultation period was announced after a non-binding vote last month. Members of the House of Commons voted for a total ban on the sport, while the upper chamber indicated support for a measure that would allow hunting to continue under government licensing restrictions.

The Countryside Alliance started legal action against the Scottish law on Thursday. Hunters believe they have a good chance of getting the legislation struck down on human rights grounds, especially since parliamentarians refused to pass a measure that would have given compensation to hunt-dependent rural businesses.

"We will now be vigorously challenging this ridiculous and vindictive piece of legislation with every legal device at our disposal," said Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Richard Burge.

The proceedings could be protracted, with some members of the alliance's legal team predicting that the case could last years. In what could be a landmark suit, campaigners will not only seek to do away with the law but will ask for punitive damages on behalf of hunting-related businesses.

Meanwhile, hunters will kick off a "summer of discontent" Friday by delivering letters protesting against an English hunt ban to the Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The coordinated action at DEFRA headquarters in London and 13 regional offices will be the first step in a wide campaign leading up to a massive march in London later this year.

The Countryside Alliance has promised that the events will be peaceful and law-abiding, but anti-hunting groups alleged the hunters would resort to violence.

"The evidence suggests that hunters will not only be engaging in peaceful protest but also in civil disobedience and intimidation," said Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS).

LACS says that hunters injured a policeman during protests against the Scottish law and that rural affairs officials have been pelted with flour, eggs and even pig urine during trips to the countryside. Pro-hunting groups deny they have backed anything other than legitimate protest.

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