A retired high court judge is calling for the law banning traditional foxhunting in Scotland to be revised.
“There are aspects and features of the legislation which complicate unduly the detection, investigation and prosecution of alleged offences,” says Lord Bonomy, appointed last year by the Scottish Government to review the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.
His report, published on Monday, represents a rejection of pleas from three Borders hunts – the Buccleuch, Lauderdale and Berwickshire – for no change to a statute roundly criticised by animal rights groups.
In his submission to Lord Bonomy, Joe Scott Plummer, chairman of the Buccleuch Foxhounds, claimed the legislation “achieved a balance between providing the necessary level of control of wild mammals while allowing for their effective control”.
Also in favour of the retention of the status quo was Trevor Adams, a former Buccleuch Hunt master and also the first person in Scotland to be charged with transgressing the law.
He stood trial in 2004 for allegedly deliberately hunting a fox with 20 hounds near Kelso but was acquitted, with a sheriff ruling the dogs had merely been used to flush out foxes so they could be shot – in accordance with the law.
In his submission, Mr Adams stated: “There is no demand for a change to the present act in this part of the world, where the need to control foxes is recognised.”
But in his recommendations, Lord Bonomy calls for the law to be strengthened and loopholes closed.
He says there is no clear answer to the question of whether the act has resulted in the elimination, as far as possible, of the chase and kill by hounds, while allowing effective and humane control of foxes by flushing to guns.
“Revising and amending the terms of the act and introducing measures aimed at making the actions of hunts more transparent and accountable could, over time, lead to a situation where a positive answer can be given to both,” states Lord Bonomy.
He says consideration should be given to restricting the underground flushing out of foxes to a single dog and to the appointment of independent monitors to observe the activities of hunts on a random basis.
He endorses a new code of practice for the conduct of hunts, including a requirement to notify the police in advance of a hunt of the number of hounds being used and the identities of those with guns.
Lord Bonomy says consideration should also be given to making landowners, on
whose land a hunt commits an offence, also guilty of an offence under the legislation.
The recommendations were welcomed by Robbie Marsland, director of the League
Against Cruel Sports Scotland.
“Lord Bonomy has come up with a set of recommendations which we believe could
severely limit the opportunity of mounted hunts to encourage packs of hounds to
chase and kill wild mammals across the Scottish countryside,” said Mr Marsland.
“The law as its stands is not fit for purpose…the ball is now firmly in the court of
the Scottish Government.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ministers will consider Lord Bonomy’s
review and consult on proposals for change to the current arrangements.”