We observe at the outset that the experience of this case has led us to the conclusion that the relevant law is far from simple to interpret or to apply; it seems to us that any given set of facts may be susceptible to differing interpretations. The result is an unhappy state of affairs which leaves all those involved in a position of uncertainty…

The question as to whether in any given situation “hunting” is taking place seems to us to be open to different interpretations.

This raises a number of questions; for example, is a fox being “hunted” from the moment it breaks cover and a pursuit begins? Does it only become “hunting” after the pursuit has been continuing for a certain length of time? If so, how long? If the huntsman, once aware of the pursuit, brings the hounds under control as soon as reasonably possible, does what has gone on before constitute “hunting”?

It seems to us the answer to these questions, and probably others will, or may, depend upon individual interpretations, the scope for which clearly exists…

The fact that an honest attempt to secure a particular outcome fails does not necessarily mean that reasonable steps were not taken to secure that outcome.

We consider that it is important to decide on this issue whether the Exmoor Foxhounds approached the new era of hunting with a cynical intention to disregard it and flout it, or, whether there was a genuine wish to try to keep within the law while at the same time continuing something of the traditions of the hunt.

During this appeal we have enjoyed an extended opportunity to observe and to hear from [Tony Wright] and we have no doubt that he and the master of the hunt genuinely wished to comply with the Act; we do not consider that either of them was simply paying lip-service to the obligation to comply.

On that day, with the benefit of hindsight, the arrangements in place may not have been sufficient to ensure full compliance with the Act, but we are satisfied that the appellant has proved that he reasonably believed, perhaps optimistically, that he had put in place the safeguards that he thought would ensure compliance with the requirements of the Act.

For further analysis of the case, read this week’s issue of Horse & Hound (6 December, ’07)