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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 10:00 GMT
Police 'can cope' with hunt ban
Fox hounds
Some hunt supporters plan to flout the law when it comes into force
Senior police officers say they have enough resources to deal with the ban on hunting with hounds.

Hunts in England and Wales met on Saturday for the first time since the ban was pushed through Parliament.

Many hunts men and women have vowed to flout the law when it comes into effect on 18 February by continuing to hunt.

Suffolk Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter promised a "proportionate response" to any illegal hunting, adding: "We have been policing hunting for 30 years."

Loopholes

On Friday, members of the Countryside Alliance lodged papers with the High Court in London seeking a judicial review.

It's going to be very strange for police officers who on 17 February will be policing and protecting the hunt from the people who are against it, and then the next day, if the people did the same thing, we will be arresting them
Suffolk Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter

The alliance is disputing the use of the Parliament Act to force through the ban on Thursday in the face of opposition from the Lords.

The group has also pledged to test loopholes in the law when it comes into force.

It says 50,000 people are prepared to break the ban and continue hunting "in the full knowledge they will be arrested".

Mr McWhirter, the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman on rural affairs, admitted the ban would be "difficult to manage" and labelled it an "additional burden".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's going to be very strange for police officers who on 17 February will be policing and protecting the hunt from the people who are against it, and then the next day, if the people did the same thing, we will be arresting them."

'Constitutional challenge'

Lawyers for the pro-hunt group are arguing that the use of the 1949 Parliament Act was unlawful because the Act itself is invalid.

The BBC's Home Affairs correspondent Andy Tighe described the legal move as a "very big constitutional challenge".

If it succeeds it cast doubts over previous occasions when the Act has been used, he said.

The application for a judicial review is being lodged by Countryside Alliance chairman John Jackson, farrier's wife Mair Hughes, from Rhondda, south Wales, and Bicester Hunt member Patrick Martin.

'Shell-shocked'

South and West Wilts Hunt is among the hunts which met on Saturday.

Earlier, David Corbin, secretary of the hunt, said he expected the occasion to be marked with anger and sadness.

"People are totally shell-shocked, frankly, that such an unliberal act, such a prejudiced form of legislation should have got through our Parliament," he said.

The public give their verdict on the hunting ban

Although he did not expect his huntspeople to break the law, he said the anger of some people "may exceed the levels at which law-abiding citizens would accept".

Tony Blair said the ban would now be an issue at the general election, expected early next year.

"I am afraid the views on both sides are very, very entrenched," said the prime minister.

Fox-hunting, the main focus of the debate, has been practiced for about 300 years in Britain.

Hunt enthusiasts say the ban infringes their human rights and that it will be a bitter blow to the rural economy.

Opponents have been campaigning for a ban for decades and say the practice is appallingly cruel and unnecessary.




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Pro-hunt supporters head to the High Court



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