News of a so-called “secret deal” between Downing Street and the Countryside Alliance (CA) that could postpone the hunting ban beyond 18 February has prompted widespread confusion in the hunting world. Many people believe, erroneously, that the ban is not now starting on 18 February.
Before Christmas, CA and government lawyers discussed the case, including a possible application for a court order to suspend the Hunting Act, pending the resolution of legal challenges. Such an injunction could give hunting a “reprieve” until September 2005 — when the Parliament Act challenge is expected to be fully concluded — or, if an injunction is granted pending the human rights challenge, for perhaps three more years.
On 23 December, The Times reported that the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, agreed not to oppose such an application — which will be made if the Alliance loses the “first round” of its legal challenge to the 1949 Parliament Act in late January.
A Downing Street spokesman told reporters: “If the Countryside Alliance is mindful to take out an injunction, we are mindful not to oppose that.”
However, the form any injunction would take is not clear-cut because the situation is unprecedented. Horse & Hound has learnt that constitutional lawyers know of no case where a similar order — to suspend an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament — has been sought.
Therefore, whether the Act would stay in force but prosecutions not brought, or whether it would be removed temporarily from the statute book, is not known.
Moreover, some hunt supporters believe that any delay could be counter-productive; doing Tony Blair and his government a favour by taking the heat out of the issue in the run-up to the next general election, expected on 5 May.