What is the law in the UK in relation to fox hunting?

What is meant by fox hunting?

Fox hunting in the UK dates as far back as the 15th century and involves the chasing and killing of a fox by horseman with a pack of hounds.

Is fox hunting illegal?

In 2005, following pressure from animal rights campaigners, fox hunting was made illegal in England and Wales by the creation of the Hunting Act 2004 (HA 2004). A ban on hunting in Scotland was passed in 2002 by the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002; hunting in Northern Ireland, however, still remains legal.

The Hunting Act 2004

What does the law say?

Under HA 2004, a person will commit an offence if s/he hunts a wild mammal. Rats and rabbits are excluded from the remit of the legislation, and a hare may be hunted by any number of dogs if it has been shot.

What is meant by hunting?

A person will be deemed to be hunting if s/he engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal and one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit – whether the dogs are employed by him/her or whether or not they are under his/her control is an issue which needs to be examined.

What is meant by mammal?

Under HA 2004, a wild mammal is defined as any mammal living in the wild and any wild mammal bred or kept in captivity and then released.

Exceptions under HA 2004

What are the possible exceptions for hunting under HA 2004?

Exemptions include:

  • Up to two dogs may be used to stalk or flush a wild mammal from cover for defined purposes.
  • One dog at a time only, may be used below ground to stalk or flush a wild mammal for the sole purpose of preventing or reducing serious damage to game birds or wild birds being kept or preserved for shooting.

Defined Purposes

What is meant by defined purposes?

Defined purposes include:

  • The protection of game birds, wild birds, fisheries, crops and livestock.
  • Obtaining meat.
  • Field trials.

To qualify as exempt, the above activities must be done with permission of the landowner and reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that as soon as possible after being found, the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person and that the dog is brought under sufficient control to allow this to hapen.

Will I be liable to prosecution if caught fox hunting?

All offences defined by HA 2004 are punishable by a fine of up to £5,000. Dogs, vehicles and equipment used in a hunting offence may be confiscated and, if deemed appropriate, destroyed.

What will happen if I refuse to pay the fine or comply with a confiscation order?

Any individual who refuses to pay a fine or comply with a confiscation order may be liable to further prosecution and may receive a custodial sentence.

Will I be liable under HA 2004 if I allow fox hunting to happen on my land?

If someone knowingly permits land which belongs to him/her to be entered or used for banned hunting purposes, they will be guilty of the offence of assisting hunting under HA 2004.

Have there been any challenges against the legality of the hunting act?

Since the implementation of HA 2004, supporters of fox hunting in the UK have claimed the Act contravenes the Human Rights Act 1998, in particular, the following rights:

  • Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life.
  • Article 11 – the freedom of assembly and association.
  • Article 14 – prohibition of discrimination.

A legal challenge was also brought on the grounds that HA 2004 may breach EU laws in relation to the free movement of goods.

Both of these cases were rejected by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

Has HA 2004 been a success in preventing fox hunting in the UK?

There have been over 430 successful prosecutions under HA 2004. Many campaigners, however, complain that the law is confusing and is aimed at prosecuting people, rather than in protecting animal rights. Fox hunting continues throughout the UK within the parameters of the law; huntsmen now shoot the foxes instead of allowing the dogs to kill them, which is not a criminal act under HA 2004.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.