New legislation to crack down on cruel illegal hare coursing

New legislation to crack down on cruel illegal hare coursing has been announced.

New legislation to crack down on cruel illegal hare coursing has been announced. - Credit: CAMBS POLICE

The Government is to introduce tougher sentencing and improved police powers to tackle the cruel practice of chasing hares with dogs.

New legislation will ensure swift action to tackle criminal activity in the countryside after plans to strengthen the powers and penalties available to tackle the barbaric practice of hare coursing were set out by the Government on Tuesday (January 4). 

 Brown hares are widespread across the UK but numbers are declining and their population is estimated at less than half a million in England and they are listed as a priority in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

Hare coursing is an illegal activity - where dogs are used to chase, catch and kill hares - and is a serious problem in some rural areas, including Cambridgeshire. Not only does hare coursing involve cruelty to wild animals, police say it is often associated with a range of other criminal activities, including theft, criminal damage, violence and intimidation.

 In amendments tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 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.

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There are also 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 and new powers for the courts to make an order, on conviction, disqualifying an offender from owning or keeping a dog.  

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly said: "'After a long campaign by myself and other backbench MPs I am delighted with the government decision to bring in new laws to crack down on criminal hare coursing. This has been a blight on our countryside for too long - tough action on this can’t come soon enough."

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “There are persistent groups who illegally perpetuate hare coursing creating challenges for the police. These new measures will give the police the additional powers to bring prosecutions and confiscate dogs from owners involved in hare coursing.”

To deliver these measures, the Government will be tabling amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for debate at Lords Report stage in January. 

Chief Inspector of Cambridgeshire police, Phil Vickers, said: “Hare coursing is a scourge for rural communities across the country – farmers and rural communities have suffered damage, threats, intimidation and assaults. The impact of the cruelty on our wildlife and the welfare of dogs once their coursing life is over is horrific.

“There is a high level on demand on policing, and though 30 Operation Galileo force are working together with partners to tackle the problem, the legislation has not kept pace with the impact on victims or benefits to offenders. 

"These changes have been sought by the coalition of partner organisations representing rural businesses, and are fully supported by the Operation Galileo Police forces.  

“We are optimistic that Parliament will take the opportunity to re-balance in favour of victims and enforcers, supporting us to take the fight to the offenders and protect rural communities and wildlife.”

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “We’re pleased to see proposals to crackdown on hare coursing; a barbaric bloodsport that sees hare cruelly chased, caught and killed by dogs. It’s time hare coursing was consigned to the history books, where it belongs. 

 “Hare coursing gangs inflict fear and suffering on their targets - the hare - but our rescue teams have also seen many dogs, used for coursing, coming into our care having been injured during the sport or abandoned when their owners no longer have use for them. This new legislation will give police and the courts more powers to end this cruel practice and the suffering it causes.”

NFU regional director, Gary Ford, said: “This is a positive start to 2022.  

“These government amendments will strengthen the law and finally give rural police forces and the courts the necessary powers to tackle hare coursing and the wider problem of organised crime. 

“We hope these amendments will signal the start of a real crackdown on these organised gangs of criminals."