The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), has welcomed government plans to strengthen the powers and penalties available to tackle illegal hare coursing. These changes come on the back of tireless lobbying by the CLA and other rural organisations.
The government is set to introduce tougher sentencing and improved police powers to tackle cruel practice of chasing hares with dogs, with new legislation to ensure swift action to tackle criminal activity in the countryside. In part, this fulfils government commitment in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare to introduce new laws on hare coursing.
In amendments tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill today, the Government has set out measures to strengthen law enforcement for hare coursing by increasing penalties, introducing new criminal offences and creating new powers for the courts to disqualify convicted offenders from owning or keeping dogs – this includes an order to reimburse the costs incurred when dogs are seized in kennels.
The proposals include:
- Increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game under the Game Acts (the Game Act 1831 and the Night Poaching Act 1828) to an unlimited fine and introducing – for the first time – the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment.
- Two new criminal offences: firstly, trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare; and secondly, being equipped to trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare both punishable on conviction by an unlimited fine and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.
- New powers for the courts to order, on conviction, the reimbursement of costs incurred by the police in kennelling dogs seized in connection with a hare coursing-related offence.
- New powers for the courts to make an order, on conviction, disqualifying an offender from owning or keeping a dog.
The CLA and working with police forces across the North, along with MP for Beverley and Holderness Graham Stuart and other rural organisations, has long been calling for specific sentencing guidelines to target criminal gangs betting on the killing of hares with dogs.
Lobbying efforts has also focused on recovering the kennelling costs incurred by police forces from criminals. This costs the police thousands of Pounds a year, or just over £13 per day. The dogs are worth more than the vehicles used to hare course, and hence, it would make sense to seize dogs.
Hare coursing, where dogs compete against each other in pursuit of a hare, was outlawed by the 2004 Hunting Act but now takes place illegally without the permission of the landowner. It has also been reported that the crime sometimes involves live streaming to another location where bets often worth thousands of pounds are placed on the outcome.
Not only does hare coursing involve cruelty to wild animals, it is also associated with a range of other criminal activities, including theft, criminal damage, violence and intimidation.
CLA President Mark Tufnell said: “Hare coursing is a despicable crime that so often blights rural communities. We have long argued for tougher sentences and more police powers to tackle these criminal gangs and are pleased that government has listened.
“Hare coursing is a global industry, with these criminal gangs often live streaming their cruelty for the purposes of illegal betting. Their crimes go hand in hand with other acts of wanton violence and vandalism and many of our members, who so often live in isolated communities, live in fear of being targeted. This clamp down is long overdue – and we need to hold government’s feet to the fire to ensure these reforms are implemented urgently”.
CLA North Rural Adviser and the CLA’s lead on hare coursing Libby Bateman, said: “For many years we have been calling for a change in legislation to give the police and the courts greater powers to tackle the problem of hare coursing. We’ve been working closely with MPs to bring this legislation forward, notably contributions from Robert Goodwill (Scarborough & Whitby) and Graham Stuart (Beverely and Holderness).”
In May 2021 Government announced, as part of the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, to introduce legislation to crack down on illegal hare coursing. Today’s announcement marks the Government’s recognition of the need for urgent action.
This is part of Government’s wider commitment both to improving animal welfare and to supporting the work of the police in protecting our rural communities.