Tony Wright, Huntsman of the Exmoor Foxhounds, was convicted by Barnstaple Justices last year of an offence of hunting a wild mammal with dogs. He was fined £500 and ordered to pay £250 costs under a private prosecution brought by the League Against Cruel Sports. He appealed against conviction and the case has just been heard at Exeter Crown Court.
Appeals against conviction by the Justices are by way of rehearing and the case was heard over several days, involving many witnesses, the cost of which to the taxpayer must have been astronomical. What a truly appalling waste of the court’s time and of the scarce resources of the Crown Prosecution Service this was, for at the conclusion of it Mr. Wright was triumphantly acquitted.
I do not propose to rehearse either the facts of the case or the judgement (which may be found here in pdf format). Two points are worth making though.
Firstly the CPS, having taken the case over from the LACS (nothing unusual in that), elected to put the case against Mr. Wright as high as it could: that on April 29, 2005, Mr. Wright hunted two foxes with two hounds on Exmoor in circumstances which were in “clear breach” of the Act.
Unfortunately for the CPS, the Learned Judge, His Honour Judge Cottle, sitting in banco with two Justices, was unable to find such a clear breach. This suggests, as one might suspect, that the CPS made a seriously bad judgement in allowing this case to meander on at considerable cost to the public purse. Well, they have now had a singularly expensive lesson which may teach them to be rather more particular in future, not least because of the strictures of the Learned Judge about this odious Act.
Which brings me neatly to the second point. The Learned Judge made this observation of the Act:
“This case has led us to the conclusion that the relevant law is far from simple to interpret or apply. It seems to us that any given set of facts may be susceptible to differing interpretations. The result is an unhappy state of affairs which leaves all those involved in a position of uncertainty.”
Which is precisely what opponents of the Act said throughout its passage through Parliament. Given that events on a hunt, indeed events in nature, will self-evidently be of an infinitely variable nature, Prosecutions under this Act will invariably involve sets of facts that will be capable of any number of interpretations. The result: days of valuable court and CPS time utterly wasted to satisfy the bigotry of a bunch of charmless, mirthless puritans.
The Court concluded its judgement with this observation:
“During this appeal we have enjoyed an extended opportunity to observe and to hear from the appellant. And we have no doubt that he and the Master of the Hunt genuinely wished to comply with the Act. On that day, with the benefit of hindsight, the arrangements in place may not have been sufficient to ensure compliance with the Act but we are satisfied that the appellant has proved that he reasonably believed, perhaps optimistically, that he had put in place the safeguard that would ensure compliance with the Act.”
Given the need that continues, and will continue ever and a day, for the control of foxes which are not the nice fluffy things of BBC Nature programmes but vicious destroyers of valuable livestock belonging to already hard-pressed farming folk, it is truly appalling that the exercise of controlling them should be so set about with ludicrous and unworkable conditions set for them by Members of Parliament notable only for the magnitude of their ignorance of nature.
The LACS Vigilantes slink away on its belly from these proceedings:
Mike Hobday, head of the prosecution unit of the League Against Cruel Sports, said it was a “deeply surprising decision”.
He added: “We shall be taking urgent legal advice about the prospects of appealing on some of the findings of law.”
Quite why these dunderheads were surprised by the decision will puzzle most people. Since they were told long ago of the unworkability of this Act, they should not have been. As for yet another appeal to, presumably, a Divisional Court of the Queen’s Bench Division, let us hope, now that the matter stands in the name of the Crown, that someone with some common sense will strangle this case and avoid yet more futile wasting of Taxpayer’s money.
Meanwhile one might ponder for a moment, given all the important things in this world which might properly be within the compass of Parliament, that 700 hours of Parliamentary time were expended on the passage of this Act which is rapidly proving itself to be the Turkey that was foretold for it. Taken with the waste of public money involved in this case and the wasting of police time that is frequently involved in policing these matters, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a rather expensive way to police the unpoliceable.
In the meantime The Huntsman sends columnar congratulations and greetings to Mr. Wright and to The Exmoor: May Your Light Shine Ever Brighter!
The Times report is here.
The Exmoor may be found here: there is a guest book for you to record your good wishes on this excellent result.