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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Hunt campaign's High Court fight
The Parliament Act was used to force a ban on hunting with dogs
The Countryside Alliance is mounting a legal challenge under European human rights legislation in a bid to overturn the hunt ban introduced in February.

Protesters were outside the High Court on Tuesday at the start of action under the European human rights convention.

They say the ban robs people of the right to work, destroys businesses and ruins people's social lives.

The League Against Cruel Sports said claiming animal cruelty as a human right was "despicable".

But Countryside Alliance chairman John Jackson said the ban infringed basic freedoms.

Lesley Drage, from Stow in the Wold in Gloucestershire, is one of the claimants under the convention on human rights.

Lost employment

She owns a livery business and claims just half of the available places for hunters are being taken up for the coming drag hunt season.

Diversifying her business to suit other types of equine activity would require large amounts of investment as the level of facilities for livery are minimal, she adds.

Speaking outside the High Court, Nicky Leeson from Northamptonshire said she had lost her job as a stud groom looking after hunters because drag hunting was not "proper hunting" and it was hard to tell how many people would sign up for the next season.

"They have reduced the number of people who are employed," she said.

'Staggering hypocrisy'

Chris Digby, from Yorkshire, said: "We have got to try every legal means possible to get the ban overturned - it's another nail in the coffin of jobs in the country."

League Against Cruel Sports chairman John Cooper said the Hunting Act was a "good law", enacted with the backing of Parliament and the majority of the public.

"To continue to waste the courts' resources and time by claiming a human right to be cruel to wild animals is truly despicable," he said.

Redundant animals?

In court, Richard Gordon QC, appearing for the Countryside Alliance, said the ban on hunting was in many ways "sectarian".

"We say, if one takes away the strength of feeling from the furore over hunting, very little is left in terms of law, and a total ban of this kind is not justified."

Richard Lissack QC, who was appearing with Mr Gordon, said the ban was likely to cause "devastation" to rural communities.

Those who hunted felt themselves "victims of the ban which by the most bitter irony delivers restriction of human activity without gain in terms of animal welfare.

"Jobs gone, homes gone, livelihoods destroyed, communities left bereaved - all this will flow if the injustices of the Hunting Act are not addressed. Indeed, it has started already".

Separate action

During the hearing the Countryside Alliance says their key points will be that the Hunting Act seeks to control the way people use their property and by restricting hunting and coursing causes loss of value.

A separate action under European Community law says the ban hits cross-border economic activity undermining rights to trade and removing the opportunity for EU nationals to come to the UK and work in hunt related businesses.

The application for judicial review will take place over an anticipated six days and will hear from applicants including Irish horse dealers and breeders, a Belgian aristocrat and hunt followers from other EU nations.

Their lawyers will argue "supremacy" of community law means that the Hunting Act must be overturned or declared void.

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