Friday, March 24, 2006

UK hunting ban revisited 1 year after

I watched this program on BBC ‘The Last Tally Ho?’, a sort of ‘1 year after enforcing the ban’ assessment of the situation.
Even the title says what it is: the question mark is the key, expresses the doubts of the program makers that the ban will indeed be effective.
Interestingly, only hunters and their helpers (hound carers etc) appear in the program and are interviewed. The show actually is all about following them, exploring their reactions to the ban (emotional ones as well, with crying women) from the beginning 1 year ago until now.
The law banning hunting with dogs in England and Wales, which dates 2004, Hunting Act 2004, came into effect in February 2005. (Scotland had already banned it.)
What the program was saying is that, because the law is flawed and more specifically is ambiguous, not well defined, it’s easy for hunters to break it, and sometimes even break it while pretending not to.
For example: the Hunt goes out in the field (complete with red jackets, horses, hounds, terrier men), not actually chasing any fox, sounding horns and such.
In fact, they go out with some dusters (‘it costs us a fortune in dusters’, says one of the hunters), which should apparently replace the fox as the quarry in this ‘trail hunting’ (sometimes they call it ‘drag hunting’). So, on the surface, they try to act ‘within the law’ (which is what they often say, half laughingly).
But then, a fox crosses the field, the hounds start chasing him or her, and here we go again: the finale is the same as before the ban.
The terrier man that I quote below explains that this occurrence (of a fox appearing without actually being looked for) did indeed happen before the ban as well, it’s a sort of normal event in a hunt, albeit not very frequent. He also adds that, if the real hunt had been in progress, horns would have been blown and that particular fox (the one, so to speak, killed by accident and not by intention) would have been alerted and stayed well away from the trails of the hounds.
The fact remains, though, that in this incident shown on the TV program the hunters did not do anything to stop the dogs as they could have: whistling, that sort of thing.
So, the law is not all that ambiguous, after all. These humans did indeed break the law.
In fact, many cases of hunts breaking the law have been reported to the authorities since the ban, without arrests or actions taken by the authorities.
And, just to finalize the confirmation that the law is not so ambiguous as they claim, the particular hunters in this TV show asked the TV crew not to film them at one stage, because, they said, ‘we may appear to break the law even if we don’t, just by accident and not intentionally’, or something to that effect.
Some statistics indicate that there are more people hunting now than before the ban was introduced.

My point is: they may still be hunting, but the practice is now being eroded, and over time there will probably be no-one to replace the current hunters, the tradition and continuity will be lost.
A terrier man said: ‘There is no fun now. We do it because we have to, until things go back to normal’ (he means until the Tories, back in power, revert the ban).

My other point is: you can’t just abolish a law because it’s unenforceable. You can’t say that we should make murder legal because not all murderers are caught, and probably a good deal of murders go unsolved.
The law should uphold a priniciple. It has a moral content. That aspect is also important, and probably just as important as the actual, factual consequences of the existence of a law.
In this particular case, moreover, the question of enforceability has two distinct aspects, which need to be separated because the first may have to do with the law (which could be changed, anyway, let’s not forget it: people keep saying that the law is bad and mus be repelled, whereas in fact the law can simply be improved to be made tougher, more precise, less ambiguous, and harder for the hunters), and the second may simply have to do with the police not willing to use (put in) resources into enforcing it (which problem must, of course, be handled and solved differently, by forcing the police to do their duty): the first aspect is whether the law is written in an ambiguous, imprecise way, the second aspect is whether the police do not act when there is a clear violation of the law.

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