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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December, 2004, 15:18 GMT
Legal move set to delay hunt ban
Hunting in Oxfordshire
The ban on hunting is due to be implemented in February
The government says it will not oppose the Countryside Alliance if it seeks an injunction delaying the ban on hunting.

The alliance will challenge the way the ban was pushed into law in the High Court next month, but it also plans to seek an injunction if it loses.

This would stop the ban coming into force in England and Wales in February.

Tory peer and Old Berkshire Hunt chairman Viscount Astor said it was a "cynical ploy to avoid a hunting ban in the run-up to the general election".

The government would "ground to a halt" if it retreated every time it was challenged in the courts, he said.

The prime minister opposed an outright ban on hunting - and was not keen on it coming into force so close to a likely May election.

Parliament Act

Since the bill was passed hunt-supporters have pledged mass protests and acts of civil disobedience when the law comes into force on 18 February.

On the basis of conversations between counsels... my understanding is that the attorney general would not object to an application for an injunction
Countryside Alliance chairman John Jackson

The legal challenge is based on claims the 1949 Parliament Act, used to force the ban into law against House of Lords opposition, is invalid.

If the case is thrown out by the High Court, or any upper court, the alliance intends to appeal and seek an injunction to postpone the hunting ban's implementation until the end of the legal process.

The alliance is also separately taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.

'Considerable legs'

Countryside Alliance chairman John Jackson said anyone who believed hunting was going to end in February "had better think again".

He said the attorney general had made it clear he would not object to an injunction suspending the operation of the act.

"Both legal challenges have got very considerable legs and, in my opinion, great legal and moral right behind them," he added.

But Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael insisted no "deal" had been done and said he was "relaxed about what the court decides".

We're confident that the challenge will not succeed, that we have good law and that in the fullness of time all law-abiding people will obey that law
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael

"The court is the correct place where the Countryside Alliance has every right to make its challenge and we're happy for them to be able to make that challenge in the court.

"We're confident that the challenge will not succeed, that we have good law and that in the fullness of time all law-abiding people will obey that law."

But the RSPCA said there was no case to make against the legitimacy of the Parliament Act and urged the government to support its own law.

Mike Hobday from the League Against Cruel Sports said he was "absolutely shocked" by what the government was doing.

"We are appalled that Downing Street is giving into threats of violence, bullying and intimidation instead of defending the decisions of Parliament and doing everything within their power to uphold the Hunting Act."

HAVE YOUR SAY
There are more important things to worry about than the cruel hobby of toffs
Craig, Stirling

The average waiting time for a case to be heard in the European Court of Human Rights is eight years.

It is not clear, however, whether any possible injunction would apply to a European case. But if it did, it would mean a delay of years, not months, before any ban would be enforced.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the government might not mind a delay



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