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Hunting Act 2004

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 24 February 2005

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The Hunting Act came into force on Friday 18 February 2005 after the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the Countryside Alliance and ruled that the Act was lawful.I have discussed with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Association of Chief Police Officers, taking into account the experience of the first weekend after the ban came into force, how to approach the prosecution of offences under the Hunting Act.Though there are no prosecutions currently underway, these discussions have reinforced my confidence that there is adequate guidance in place for both police and prosecutors.The Hunting Act provides that those who commit offences under it are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding £5,000. The offences under the Act may be tried only in a magistrates' court.The police will investigate allegations of breaches of the Act in accordance with their normal procedures, making operational decisions in line with national and local priorities. They will refer charging decisions arising directly or indirectly out of activities associated with hunting wild mammals with dogs under the Hunting Act to a Crown prosecutor.Crown prosecutors will, in turn, make their decision in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. This provides that a prosecution will not take place unless there is a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute.The code specifically requires Crown prosecutors to consider diversions from prosecution. These include informal warnings and cautions. Where it is decided to prosecute, proceedings may be instigated either by charge or by summons.The Countryside Alliance has now submitted a petition to the House of Lords for leave to appeal. It will be a matter for the House of Lords to decide whether or not to hear such an appeal. Should the House of Lords agree to hear the alliance's appeal, I will consider, with the DPP, what implications this may have for any pending prosecutions and will make a further Statement if necessary.As I made clear last week, it is not for the Attorney-General to suspend an Act of Parliament and introduce a blanket policy of non-enforcement of the law. The law will be enforced in the usual way.