HUNTING laws were branded ‘pointless’ by campaigners yesterday (Wednesday) after a landmark High Court judgment in the case of an Exmoor huntsman.

The Countryside Alliance says the ruling will make it harder to bring hunting prosecutions but the League Against Cruel Sports says it is a positive step forward in tackling illegal hunting.

Tony Wright, of Exmoor Foxhounds, was the first huntsman to be prosecuted after the Hunting Act came into force in 2005. He was found guilty of hunting in magistrates court but his conviction was later overturned at Exeter Crown Court.

Mr Wright claimed he was hunting legally under an ‘exemption’ and the Exeter judge said it was down to the prosecution prove he was not.

But that ruling was at odds with a decision in a separate case involving three members of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, heard in Taunton, where a district judge said it was down to the defendant to prove they were ‘exempt hunting’.

On Wednesday two top judges eliminated the legal confusion by ruling in favour of Tony Wright, saying that the burden of proof in relation to exempt hunting lay with the prosecution.

They also said there has to be an identifiable mammal being pursued in order for there to be an offence.

After the case Tony Wright, of Simonsbath, said: “If this judgement makes it less likely that other people will face this sort of prosecution then it has all been worth it.”

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Instead of being a ‘new blow’ to the Hunting Act this will clarify the law and clear up any confusion around what is legal hunting and what is illegal hunting.”

Countryside Alliance chairman Simon Heart said: “The Hunting Act is an increasingly pointless piece of legislation that offered little and has achieved less.”