Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 6 News List

UK fox-hunting activists seeking to overturn ban


Defeated in Parliament, activists went to court Friday seeking to overturn a ban on fox hunting, an English tradition that's more than 300 years old.

The Countryside Alliance, which staged mass demonstrations in the losing battle, filed a court case challenging the validity of the law which enabled the House of Commons to ban hunting despite the opposition of the House of Lords.

The alliance also planned a campaign of civil disobedience, reportedly including protests in London, and landowners preventing the use of their land for military training facilities, electricity pylons and sewage treatment.

The House of Commons on Thursday enacted the ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales, effective Feb. 18 by invoking the Parliament Act for only the fourth time since 1949.

While it will still be legal to shoot foxes, the legislation bans all hunting with hounds, including the pursuit of rabbits and deer.

The Countryside Alliance is seeking a hearing on its contention that the Parliament Act was not properly enacted.

"The reason we are taking it is that what we saw in Parliament yesterday was nothing more than political vandalism," said Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance.

If that challenge fails, the Alliance planned a second case arguing that the law violated human rights, said spokesman Tim Bonner.

"Beyond that, our people will certainly be engaging in the general election campaign," Bonner said, adding: "Many thousands of people are committed to peacefully disobeying any law against hunting when it is brought."

The years of debate over outlawing a sport opponents see as simply cruel has been highly charged and deeply divisive. Scotland outlawed hunting two years ago.

About 2,000 whistling, banner-waving hunting supporters gathered Thursday night outside Windsor Castle, where Queen Elizabeth II staged a banquet in honor of French President Jacques Chirac. Prime Minister Tony Blair also attended.

"There are a lot of angry people here, people of all ages and from all backgrounds, who are fed up with being ignored," said Ian Agnew, chairman of the Surrey Union Hunt.

While it will still be legal to shoot foxes, the legislation bans all hunting with hounds, including the pursuit of hares and stags.

Before Thursday, the 1949 Parliament Act had been used only three times: to lower the age of consent for homosexual sex, to allow British courts to try Nazis suspected of war crimes and to change the electoral system for selecting representatives to the European Parliament.

The hunting issue sparked an enormous protest in September 2002, when 400,000 hunting supporters marched through central London in what was billed as one of Britain's largest protests in 150 years.

In September, five hunting enthusiasts barged into the House of Commons during a debate on the ban. Some 10,000 protesters massed outside Parliament that day and some clashed with police in riot gear.

The Conservative Party says it would repeal the law if it wins the next general election, expected in May, but political analysts say a Conservative victory appears most unlikely.

"This was always going to be an issue at a general election," Blair told reporters Friday morning. "It will be an issue because there are very strong feelings about it."

Opponents of hunting with hounds say it is unacceptably cruel since the dogs kill foxes by tearing them apart.

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