On 30 April, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 gained royal assent. For many, this legislation has been controversial as it gives new powers to police to disperse protesters. However, alongside many other wildlife and countryside organisations, the CLA has celebrated the unveiling of the act. We saw this as an opportunity to take forward the amendments to the 1831 Game Act to give the police and the courts greater powers to tackle the problem of hare coursing.
The new act contains five key legislative changes to stamp out the practice of hare coursing. It is worth noting that, although hare coursing was outlawed under the 2004 Hunting Act, most of the convictions against coursing culprits are brought under the S30 of the Game Act.
The first legislative change is that fines issued under S30 of the Game Act will be unlimited, these have previously been restricted to a maximum of just £1000, with most being just a few hundred pounds. Secondly, the courts can now order the offender to reimburse the police for the cost of housing the dog between the first investigation and trial. This second amendment is absolutely key to reducing incidents of hare coursing as previously police forces have had to stand the cost of kennelling dogs which can run into thousands of pounds. The previous budget pressure on police forces has meant that many have been reluctant to seize dogs from the field, meaning offenders could simply continue to course elsewhere. Courts are unable to issue a forfeiture order for a dog unless it is already in police custody. The new legislation will also give courts the power to ban offenders from keeping dogs in the future.
Reclaiming the cost of kennelling dogs does have its limitations as the courts will have to take into account the offender’s ability to pay, however, it is a strong step in the right direction.
Finally, the 2022 Act introduces two new offences of ‘going equipped’ and ‘trespass with intent’. Collectively these new offences will give the police on the ground, greater powers to intercept hare coursers, even if they are not, at the time of investigation, in actual pursuit of a hare with a dog.
Now that this legislation is finally in place, the next step for the CLA is to ensure that these new powers are effectively communicated to police officers and prosecutors. We are meeting with Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales to let them know about the new powers and ask them to ensure that Chief Constables provide rural and wildlife police officers with training on these powers before the beginning of the next hare coursing season in the autumn. We are also pressing the Home Office to issue guidance to police forces and seeking to provide advice to magistrates, so they have a clear understanding of the impact hare coursing has on communities and rural business, and to brief them on the new powers of prosecution within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.