Fox Hunting lobbyists seeking way round new Covid law

New Covid-19 restrictions come into force in England, Scotland, and Wales this Monday as the number of UK infections rise sharply. Note that we are not lawyers (we’re just trying to make sense of the new law) and that the following post refers to the law change in England. Scotland is broadly similar, but Wales is currently allowing outdoor meetings of up to thirty people.

 

The government has announced new measures to suppress the virus and keep the number of infections down. These measures (commonly referred to as the ‘Rule of Six’) are posted on the gov.uk website and include the following:

From Monday 14 September, you must not meet with people from other households socially in groups of more than 6. This will apply indoors and outdoors, including in private homes. This change will simplify and clarify the rules on social gatherings, so they are easier to understand and easier for the police to enforce. There will be a limited number of exemptions…Education and work settings are unaffected, and organised team sports will still be able to proceed, as will weddings and funerals up to 30. From Monday, this limit will be enforceable in law.

Covid-19, What has changed – September 9th, UK Government

The so-called Countryside Alliance almost immediately announced they would be ‘reviewing the latest government guidance‘ – perhaps not understanding that what the government announced is not ‘guidance’ but legal restrictions. The line that “this limit will be enforceable in law” should have given that away, but the CA are not the sharpest tools in the toolbox as their unflinching support for fox hunting has proven, so perhaps they need it explaining again. This is NOT ‘guidance’ it is the law.

 

Could hunts ‘meet’ in groups of six outside?

Some hunts are now so poorly-attended that all they have is six people, so perhaps if just the riders with no support, no terrier-men, and no hangers-on want to trot around the country, then maybe. Interestingly though the CA actually gave some lockdown advice in June this year which has relevance to the ‘Rule of Six’ today:

Updated advice regarding horse riding in England  – 01/06/2020

You can ride a horse, providing that you are alone, with members of your own household or with no more than 5 other people from a different household. You should observe social distancing where possible when encountering other riders or the public.

You are allowed to visit venues like a riding club to exercise. You should only do so alone, with members of your household or with no more than 5 other people from another household as long as you can remain 2 metres away from them.

You should not gather with people from outside of your household indoors. You should check ahead to ensure that these facilities are open and prepared to receive visitors.

CA, 01 June 2020

“…with no more than 5 other people from a different household“. As we said, yes, that was written during lockdown, but it does suggest that the CA are well aware of the difference between Government ‘advice’ and the law. And rather handily have already explained to their supporters what the new ‘Rule of Six’ looks like.

If the CA is still unsure what the rules say, perhaps they could refer to the British Equestrian website, which has updated its website and points out some additional requirements for equestrian businesses:

Riders, drivers and vaulters meeting for informal equestrian activities such as hacking must legally abide by the restriction of six people or fewer as of Monday 14 September in England.

Also coming into law is the requirement for businesses to record customer, staff and visitor contact details to support the NHS Test and Trace programme. Most equestrian centres, venues and operatives should have instigated this within their ‘return to play’ plans, but those who haven’t been must now put a recording program in place in order to comply with the law. Data should be held for 21 days, then safely destroyed, and should be handled in accordance with GDPR.

British Equestrian, Covid-19 update, 10 Sept 2020

 

Spectators (ie hunt followers)

The government has issued information around sports ‘spectators’ – which in fox hunting’s case would presumably be the grim-faced followers who help funnel wildlife towards the hounds. While the law does not ban spectators it does put conditions on them:

Supporters, parents, and other spectators to remain socially distanced whilst attending events. Spectator groups must be restricted to discrete 6 person gathering limits and spread out, in line with wider government guidance.

Where it is anticipated that an activity will attract spectators, there should be a named person or persons with responsibility for ensuring adherence with these guidelines and ensuring the facility is COVID-19 Secure. The person should carry out and publish a risk assessment for the activity which limits the number of spectators and focuses on the need to maintain social distancing on arrival, for the duration of the activity, and on departure.

Arrangements should also be put in place to support test and trace efforts by collecting information from spectators which is detailed enough to allow NHS Test and Trace to contact them if necessary. See the maintaining records guidance for further information.

Return to recreational team sport framework, Gov.uk, 10 Sept 2020

In other words, hunt followers must remain socially distanced, and, as pertinently, one of them must a) ensure there are no breaches “on arrival, for the duration of the activity, and on departure”, and b) must collect information which would allow Test and Trace. Which has to mean that if the hunt is proven to break the Hunting Act, there would be a list of everyone involved – not doing so would break the new Covid-19 law. That should make the police’s job easier…

 

What if you have symptoms?

One of the conditions the government has decided must be followed to take part in an ‘organised sport’ is the following:

All players, officials, volunteers and spectators must undergo a self-assessment for any COVID-19 symptoms. No-one should leave home to participate in sport if they, or someone they live with, has symptoms of COVID -19

Pre-attendance official symptom check, 10 Sept 2020

That, then, means that every person – from rider to hunt follower – MUST be sure that they have no Covid-19 symptoms. And presumably – as the hunt appears to be required to have made quite detailed lists of whom participates – they can easily be tracked down if they do then develop Covid-19 (or, of course, break the Hunting Act). Again, for a group that prefers to remain anonymous (for obvious reasons) there is a LOT of potential here for finding out just who on earth wants to watch rural hooligans on horseback abuse wild animals…

 

Is hunting an ‘organised sport’?

Hunting is not hacking (which is light exercise for a horse not chasing a fox at breakneck speed across, for example, National Trust land), so what about the (frankly ludicrous) idea that gangs of rural hooligans, their supporters, and hunt officials are engaged in an ‘organised sport’?

The definition of a ‘team sport’ is “a sport in which teams play against each other“. Chasing animals is not by any definition a sport with sides playing against each other. How about an ‘organised sport’? It will be very interesting to see how the police interpret ‘organised sport’ and the ‘Rule of Six’: are groups of hunters spread out across a field breaking the new Covid-19 law if they then come together while breaking the Hunting Act anyway? Hard to tell, but expect social media to erupt if, for example, meeting up to legally protest is cracked down on, but meeting up to illegally hunt wildlife is not.

It’s hardly surprising though that the CA is bullish on getting around the restrictions/law that the rest of us are preparing to respect and adhere to. The government is writing a list of exemptions, and fellow shooting lobbyists, BASC, seem confident that their friends in government (which range from Natural England to friendly MPs) will offer the usual support:

Detailed exemptions to the new restrictions will be published by the government shortly. BASC believes shooting will be covered by the exemptions and that shooting activities will not be affected by the restrictions. Shooting can be defined as an organised sport, and as a workplace where the beaters and pickers-up are under employment. With shoots following social distancing guidelines and best practice shooting can continue to take place. BASC is revising its guidance for game shoots and sending this to the relevant government departments to demonstrate best practice.

BASC, Coronavirus, 11 Sept 2020

The CA, according to their website, is (of Sept 11th) ‘in discussion with Ministers and officials about the definition of organised outdoor activities“, presumably attempting to redefine the shambolic chaos of illegal fox hunting as an ‘organised sport’. Tim Bonner, the CA chief-executive, is determined that hunting will continue: in typically tone-deaf style while acknowledging “the need to be cautious about the spread of Covid and the safety of our communities” he gives the game away by adding that “this must, however, be balanced against the economic and social impact of restrictions on the countryside“. That’s right, the chief-exec of the CA appears to be claiming that shooting and illegal fox hunting brings in so much money and joy to the countryside that it’s worth weighing up the risk of continuing it during a rapidly growing phase of pandemic spread against putting vulnerable people in hospital with Covid-19 related illness (which The Health Foundation describes as representing “an unprecedented challenge to health and care services, bringing intense pressure and radical change to systems, organisations and to all of us as individuals“). You really do have to be obsessed with killing wildlife to think like that, but then this is the CA we’re quoting…

We will have to wait and see how the government reacts to this nonsense. But on a secondary note, while (as we said) we’re not lawyers there’s an interesting scenario in the offing here: using the usual ‘the hounds followed a fox, we couldn’t call them back‘ excuse for killing foxes while at the same time getting around Covid-19 rules by insisting they’re out participating in an ‘organised sport’ could make for a good discussion in the courts…

 

At the moment it’s hard to know exactly what the final exemptions to the new law will be, and this post is essentially musing aloud. We will though update it as we learn more – if you have better information please let us know and we will edit the new info in (with credits).

However, it seems very difficult to believe that illegal fox hunting will be able to adhere to the restrictions on meetings under the new law on Covid-19. A law that decent people everywhere else will adhere to because we don’t want this virus spreading to vulnerable members of the society that we’re (supposedly) all a part of.

So what can we do if we witness the new law (and we’ve been discussing ENGLAND only in this post remember) being broken by fox hunts?

  • Contact the police and explain that the rules against gatherings of more than six people are being broken NOW.
  • Contact the Hunt Saboteurs on their tip-off line: 07443 148 426