Police gain new powers to tackle hare coursers as Bill gets Royal Assent

Police will gain more powers to tackle hare coursing following sustained lobbying by farming unions and rural organisations
Police will gain more powers to tackle hare coursing following sustained lobbying by farming unions and rural organisations

A bill targeting hare coursers has been strengthened after successful lobbying attempts, giving the police further powers to protect farmers and rural communities from criminal activity.

Changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which has now been given Royal Assent, will help deter hare coursers by giving police the means to seize more dogs and by lifting the existing limit on fines.

Unauthorised encampments will become a criminal offence for those who do not leave when asked by the landowner or tenant, and offenders will be hit with strengthened penalties.

It follows lobbying attempts by the NFU, which pushed the government to further clamp down on hare coursing and illegal encampment, as both crimes cause 'significant damage' to farmland and wildlife.

The illegal blood sport is seen as a blight on rural communities and farmers' livelihoods, and is damaging to the conservation of one of Britain's iconic species.

It involves the pursuit of wild hares by trained greyhounds or lurchers across bare fields, often carried out by organised criminal gangs, with large sums of money gambled online.

The 'season' typically gets under way after harvest, when poachers take advantage of bare fields, which can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage to land and crops, and sees many farmers and landowners intimidated.

The union said it had identified the original bill as an appropriate piece of legislation for dealing with hare coursing and worked with the government to include major amendments.

Welcoming the Royal Assent, NFU vice president David Exwood said the bill gave the police more powers to protect rural communities from destructive and intimidating criminal activity.

“Hare coursing can cause significant damage to farmland, something farmers across the country experience all too often, with little repercussions for offenders," he said.

"Their behaviour can also be a source of great distress for farming families who feel vulnerable and threatened in their own homes.

“We know that both these crimes continue to take a toll on farming businesses, and we will continue to work with government and police to ensure these strengthened laws are utilised to deliver meaningful results – a decline in cases of rural crime.”

What are the changes?

Changes to hare coursing law within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act include:

• Increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game to an unlimited fine and introducing the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment

• Two new criminal offences

• New powers for the courts to make an order disqualifying a convicted offender from owning or keeping a dog

Changes to unauthorised encampment laws within the Act include:

• A new offence and an accompanying power for the police to seize property where individuals reside or intend to reside on land with a vehicle

• A person will commit the offence if they fail to leave the land or remove their property without reasonable excuse when asked to do so by the occupier

• A person guilty will be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding currently £2,500, or both

• The Act also amends the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994