Here we introduce some of the relevant legal issues including:

  • Hunt Sabs and the Law Part 1 – what sabs can and can’t do – legally speaking (first featured in HOWL 94, Spring 2010)
  • Hunt Sabs and the Law Part 2 – what can hunts get away with – legally speaking (first featured in HOWL 95, Summer 2010)
  • Public Order Act 1986
  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (known as CJA)
  • Right to Silence
  • Personal Searches
  • Actions against the police

Follow links within articles for further information.


Public Order Act 1986

The 1986 Act extends police controls over public processions and marches and creates for the first time controls over public assemblies. It abolishes a number of common law offences, including riot, violent disorder and affray and replaces them with a wide range of statutory public order offences. Included as “sections” of the Act are :-

  • Section 1 Riot;
  • Section 2 Violent Disorder
  • Section 3 Affray
  • Section 4 Threatening Behaviour
  • Section 5 Causing Harrassment, Alarm and Distress (sometimes referred to as “disorderly conduct”).

Criminal Justice and  Public Order Act 1994

Although sections of this act were specifically targetted at sabs, with the aim of criminalising us, in practice it has proved to be a dismal failure. Most of the cases brought in the first season collapsed and the Act has not stopped a single sab. In the first season of the CJA, sabs hit over 1,000 hunting days, saving thousands of lives. For more information on the failure of the CJA to halt us saving lives, see our report written at the close of the first season after its implementation.

The HSA additionally provided a briefing for MPs at the Act’s introduction which can be viewed by following this link.

Briefly, the relevant sections of the act are:

  • Section 68 – this limits the right to protest by creating a new offence of aggravated trespass. This makes it an offence to trespass on land where a lawful activity is taking place where a person does anything which is intended to disrupt, obstruct or intimidate people so as to deter them from engaging in that activity. The offence carries a maximum penalty of three months in prison or a fine up to ú2,500. However, the heaviest sentence so far imposed is a ú200 fine.
  • Section 69 – this creates a new criminal offence of disobeying the orders of a police officer who has directed a person to leave land if he/she “reasonably believes that a person is committing, has committed or intends to commit the offence of aggravated trespass”. (Note – The civil rights group Liberty state that both Sections 68 and 69 are “badly drafted and unclear, making it difficult for the citizens to be confident of staying within the law”).

Section 68 – Aggravated Trespass

A person commits the offence of aggravated trespass if he/she trespasses on land in the open air and, in relation to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land in the open air, does there anything which is intended by them to have the effect :

  1. of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity;
  2. of obstructing that activity; or
  3. of disrupting that activity

Section 69 – Powers to Remove a Person Committing Aggravated Trespass

A senior police officer present where people are suspected of participating, about to participate or having participated in an aggravated trespass may direct those people to leave the land. This power also applies where two or more people are trespassing on land with the common purpose of intimidating others so as to deter them from engaging in lawful activity or obstructing or disrupting lawful activity. Where such a direction has been given and a person knowing that this direction has been given and applies to them either :

  1. fails to leave the land as soon as practicable; or
  2. having left re-enters the land as a trespasser within three months of the day the direction was given,

they commit an offence.

Right To Silence

This is only a brief treatment of the changes to the right to silence. A much fuller and more informative article is available here.

Previously, when questioned by police a suspect could invoke their right to silence, by either actually remaining silent when being questioned or simply replying with “No comment” responses to questions. In April 1995 this right was abolished in that if a person decides on this course of action when questioned certain assumptions could be made from it.

Section 38 of the CJA 1994 states that a person cannot be committed for trial, have a case to answer or be convicted solely on the grounds of failure to answer questions, but the court may “draw adverse inferences” from :-

  • failure to mention facts when questioned (see Sec 34 of CJA)
  • failure to give evidence at trial (Sec 35)
  • failure to account for objects, substances or marks present at the time of arrest (Sec 36)
  • failure to account for presence at a particular place or time (Sec 37)

Despite this, past history has shown it to be in your own interest to remain silent or give “No Comment” as an answer to ALL questions put to you in an interview after your arrest. The police are only looking for information to convict YOU. Don’t make their job easy for them.

Personal Searches In The Street Under The Criminal Justice Act

When can a police officer stop and search you?

When they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that you are carrying on your person or in a vehicle one of the following:

  • A knife
  • Any offensive weapons or explosives
  • Stolen goods
  • Any articles made or adapted for use in burglary, theft, taking of a vehicle or any property obtained by deception.
  • Drugs An offensive weapon is any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to persons; or any article which is intended for such use by you or some other person. The police officer does not have to be certain that you are carrying one or more of these thing, but there must be some concrete basis for the police officer’s suspicion which relates to you. The mere fact that you are dressed in a particular way or are a member of the HSA is not in itself sufficient grounds for suspicion. If the officer does find any of the items above on you or in your vehicle they may seize it. It goes without saying that you should not be taking any of the above items out sabbing with you anyway. They are not needed for saving the animals’ lives and so they have no purpose on a sab.

What information should you be given about any search?

Before the search the police officer must tell you:

  • The reasons why you are to be searched
  • His/her name and station.
  • If not in uniform, the officer must prove their identity as a police officer.(e.g., warrant card)
  • That you are entitled to a copy of the search record within twelve months, if you ask for one at the police station.

Can a police officer stop and search you anywhere?

An officer can search you in any public place or any place to which the public has access (e.g. football ground)

How thoroughly can the police search you in a stop and search?

An officer may not ask you to remove any of your clothes in public except for an outer coat, jacket or gloves, even if the street is empty. If the officer wants to search you more thoroughly you may be detained for a few minutes in order to carry out the search, but no longer than is reasonable. The police can’t detain you in order to find grounds to justify the search.

A more thorough search, e.g. the removal of a T-shirt may only take place out of public view and by an officer of the same sex as yourself, it may also not take place in the presence of any other person who is of the opposite sex.

Can the police use force in order to search you?

The officer can use reasonable force to detain and search you if necessary. The police are only allowed to use force if you have been given a chance to co-operate but have refused. If excessive force is used you may be able to claim for compensation for assault later.

Are you entitled to a record of what happens?

Whenever a search has been carried out the officer must make a note of what happened, on the spot if possible, later if not. The search record must include:

  • Your name, or if you withheld it, a description of you.
  • Where a vehicle is searched, a description of it.
  • The object of the search.
  • The grounds for making it.
  • The date and time it was made.
  • Its result
  • A note of any injury or damage to property resulting from it.
  • The identity of the officer making it. You are entitled to see a copy of any search record relating to your search within a twelve month period.

Searching your vehicle

An officer may search anything in or on your vehicle as well as the vehicle itself once they have decided that they have reasonable grounds mentioned above. If your vehicle is left unattended when a search takes place the officer must leave a note on the vehicle telling you:

  • What has happened
  • Which police station the officer is from.
  • That you may claim for compensation for any damage done during the search.
  • That you are entitled to a copy of the search record within twelve months, if you ask for one at the police station.

Power to search once arrested

A custody officer may seize and retain any item. Clothes and personal effects may only be seized if the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that they may be evidence relating to an offence. Where anything is seized, the officer must tell you the reason for the seizure unless you are violent; likely to become violent or incapable of understanding what is said to you. Always get receipts for any property seized.

Can the police retain property which they have seized?

Anything seized for the purpose of a criminal investigation may be retained for use as evidence of an offence at a trial; for forensic examination or for investigation in connection with an offence. Anything may be retained in order to establish its lawful owner, where an officer has reasonable grounds for believing that it has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence.

Seizure of property before arrest

The general rule is the police can’t seize your property unless you are under arrest and it is evidence of an offence. However, a police officer has a duty to prevent a breach of the peace. Where they have grounds for believing that a breach of the peace is occurring or is imminent they may do whatever is reasonable to prevent it. This would include seizing any property which they believe will be used to cause a breach of the peace. Once the threat of a breach of the peace is over they must return any item unless you are arrested or reported for summons and the item seized is evidence of an offence.

Actions Against The Police

Our “close working relationship” with the police often means that you may be involved in incidents or arrests which you feel aggrieved about. The key thing here to remember is that nothing is ever likely to change unless you attempt to do something about it. You can go out sabbing week after week and constantly be confronted by police tactics that you feel to be unwarranted, unnecessary and down right out of order – but unless you get your arse into gear and take action on these issues then really you’ve only got yourself to blame.

So, here is a basic guide to taking action and all the details you need to do so.

Complaints against the Police

If you feel that a police officer has behaved wrongly or badly, then you are the one who must make the complaint. First, decide what you think the officer did wrong. For example, was s/he rude to you? Did s/he use unnecessary/excessive force on you or your property? If so, you have every right to complain. What to do:-

  1. Write a full account of what happened and send it to the Chief Constable of the force to which the officer concerned belongs; or if the officer is a senior officer above the rank of Chief Superintendent, to the officer’s local police authority.
  2. You can go to any police station and tell them you have a complaint to make. An Officer there will take down the details from you.
  3. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can give advice on whether you appear to have a valid complaint and how to go about making it. Or you can go to a solicitor if you wish.
  4. Your complaint should include full details:- What exactly happened? – What was done? – What was said? When did it happen? – Where did it happened? – Was it seen by someone other than yourself and the officer? – Do you know how they can be contacted? – Do you have proof of any damage?

Suing the Police

Most people want to sue the police because they have been wrongly arrested, assaulted by the police or prosecuted for something they didn’t do. Here are some things you should know about these types of action:-

Wrongful arrest – Unlawful arrest and detention is called false imprisonment. The police must justify any arrest and detention, so if you think they have acted outside their powers it is worthwhile getting further advice. False imprisonment can happen on the street, in your home, in a police vehicle and of course at the police station – in fact any place where the police control your freedom.

Assault – This is much wider than many people think. You are assaulted as soon as someone touches you without lawful reason to do so, and/or when they put you in fear of violence. Of course, it includes being punched and kicked and being subjected to illegal body searches. If you are assaulted by the police it is important to see a doctor straight away and for your injuries to be noted. You should also take photos of any injuries, if possible.

Prosecuted for something you didn’t do – This is called malicious prosecution. You have to prove that the police had no reasonable cause to prosecute you and that they had a “wrongful motive” in doing so. You also usually have to win your case, which means either (a) any charges were dropped before the case went to court, or (b) you were acquitted in court.

Other complaints – You can also sue the police for negligence, trespass to land and goods, and a few other civil wrongs.

Suing the police takes place in the normal civil courts such as the County Courts or High Courts. You are suing the police for compensations for the wrongs done to you. It may, though, take two or three years for the matter to get to court…but the possibility of a cheque at the end of it is always a good incentive to pursue the case to its conclusion.

What to do – As soon as possible after the incident write a full statement of what happened. It is essential not to put this off as important details are easily forgotten. Include, if possible, the names and numbers of any police officers involved. Send this, with a covering letter giving a brief outline of the situation and a note saying that you are wanting to begin a civil action, to a solicitor. Also include your custody record (if applicable) – write to the relevant police station and request a copy.

If the solicitor agrees that you may have a case and that s/he can take you on, you will probably receive a set of legal aid application forms, depending on your income. It is important to fill these in and to return them as soon as possible so that work on your case can begin (presuming you are granted legal aid in one form or another). It is advised that all individuals taking action in relation to the same incident should us the same solicitor and keep in touch on progress in the case.

Please contact the HSA for details of sympathetic solicitors who are experts in these areas.

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