A DECADE ago this week, the Fox Hunting Act, which banned hunting with dogs, received Royal Assent.
The Hunting Act 2004 bans the use of dogs to hunt wild animals – mainly foxes, but also deer, hares and mink – but it doesn’t stop people using dogs to flush out an animal.
More people were prosecuted in 2013 for hunting with dogs than in any other year, with 110 people charged with offences and half of those resulting in convictions.
But the Countryside Alliance said that only six of those were connected to registered hunts, and it questions whether those investigations should have been brought about.
The RSPCA has also sought private prosecutions against people who have been charged with illegal hunting, including members of the Heythrop Hunt.
The charity was criticised by rural campaigners and a presiding magistrate who labelled the £326,000 legal bill against the Oxfordshire hunt in 2012 “staggering”.
Dr Graham Ferris, of the New Forest Hounds, believes that the Hunting Act is a “poor piece of legislation”.
He said: “It has nothing to do with animal welfare. It’s ambiguous. It’s led to a lot of time-wasting, expensive prosecution motivated largely by the RSPCA.
“Many people in the legal profession feel that it is a waste of time and that it was a mistake in the first place, as even Tony Blair has admitted.”
Anti-hunt campaigners want to strengthen the Hunting Act, saying that those charged can rely on the defence that a fox’s death was accidental.
But Frankie James, of the New Forest Animal Protection Group, believes that the Hunting Act has been worthwhile and denies it is “toothless”.
She said: “It’s done a good job as far as it goes in that it’s made an activity illegal and it’s managed to create a mindset that it is not something we tolerate in this country.
“But because of the nature of the exercise it’s not in public view and because of that people can flout the law.”
For Dr Ferris, it does lead to fear among his friends in the hunting community that they could end up in court.
He said: “That’s a daily hazard when you’re trail hunting. There’s always the possibility that somebody misinterprets what you’re doing, especially for the hunters.
“They might face being charged and then you have to prove their innocence.
“That’s not a comfortable feeling, if it’s your job that’s at risk.”
There are currently no plans in the Houses of Parliament to alter the act or to repeal it.
Both New Forest MPs said that there were “more important things” they had to deal with than introduce plans to repeal fox hunting, yet they were both adamant in their opposition to it.
Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West, said: “If there’s an opportunity I would vote for repeal. I don’t see that happening soon. But there’s a deficit, there’s unemployment, I’m not going to be side-tracked into fiddling about with the law.”