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Somerset CC have been granted leave to appeal to the House of Lords after the appeal court upheld a high court deci...
Somerset CC have been granted leave to appeal to the House of Lords after the appeal court upheld a high court decision overturning the council's ban on stag-hunting.

Michael Supperstone QC for the council told the court on Friday:

'Thirty five shire county councils and more than 100 district and metropolitan borough councils have taken the decision to ban hunting with hounds, whether of foxes or stags.

'This is an issue which is at the heart of a very lively, widespread and contemporary debate. It is very important that councils considering such bans should know precisely what they may or may not take into account when reaching a decision on this topic.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Bingham, said that what had to be decided was whether or not the council had properly exercised its powers under Section 120 of the 1972 Local Government Act.

The Act required that the ban could only be imposed 'for the benefit, improvement or development' of the county council's area.

Sir Thomas accepted the county council's claim that Mr Justice Laws had placed 'too narrow a construction' on the words 'the benefit of the area'.

'I accept that animal welfare and social considerations were relevant matters to take into account, and I have accepted that ethical considerations could be'.

'I would not accept Mr Justice Laws's view that the cruelty argument, or the contrary argument that hunting is a less cruel means of controlling the herd than available alternatives, is necessarily irrelevant to consideration of what is for the benefit of the area.'

Debate at the council meeting at which the ban was imposed had been of a 'high standard', but the judge said 'the purely personal opinions' of the majority of councillors who voted for the ban had 'loomed large' in the decision.

'I accordingly agree with Mr Justice Laws, although on much narrower grounds, that the county council were not entitled to make the decision they did on the grounds they relied on.'

In his dissenting judgement, Lord Justice Simon Brown said he found it 'impossible to say that the councillors must shut their minds to the cruelty argument'.

'I for my part, indeed, would go further than the Master of the Rolls and conclude that the cruelty argument, as well indeed as the countervailing ethical considerations, were necessarily relevant to the decision.

'Had they been ignored I believe that the council would have been open to criticism.

'I for my part would have found the decision lawful and would accordingly have allowed this appeal.'

Lord Justice Swinton Thomas said the council's chairman appeared to have been of the opinion that, as owners of the land, the council could act in the same way as a private landlord.

'In my judgement the council passed a resolution without any consideration of the statutory restraints imposed on it, albeit in wide terms.

'The council never considered the powers under which they were acting, or applied them, and for that reason I would uphold the decision of Mr Justice Laws'.

All three judges agreed that Mr Justice Laws had been wrong to say that the council had unlawfully failed to take into account the effect of the hunting ban on the management of the deer herd.

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