Posts Tagged ‘Mr Justice Freedman’

I guess now that the ink is dry on deal, or mores the point the PDF documents have been signed, I can enlighten the very many of you who have expressed an interest in the Fitzwilliam Injunction saga. If you’re not fully up to date then you can catch up here and here. OK, so assuming you know what’s been occurring I’ll fill you in on the rest of the details.

At the end of last week our legal representative was contacted by the Fitzwilliam’s legal team with an offer. That offer amounted to dropping those named from the injunction, with no claims made to costs provided we signed an agreement not to trespass on the claimants land. The claimants would still be pursuing an injunction against persons unknown.

Now this may seem to be not a particularly good deal but in this instance you need to consider the wider context.

Firstly, it was pretty clear that the Fitzwilliam were very keen to avoid a full trial against those named on the injunction. The legitimacy of their evidence and in particular their hunting methods had been seriously called into question by Mr Justice Freedman, along with the behaviour of their so called hunt stewards. Had the Fitzwilliam felt they were in a strong position they would have pushed on regardless.

Secondly, their claims for harassment, trespass against goods and the utterly laughable claims of assault were denied by the judge. Mr Freedman also noted that assaults did appear to have been carried out by the hunt staff and this could be followed up by the victims should they wish, causing another potential embarrassment for the hunt.

Thirdly, there would be no claims for costs. It was estimated that the hunt had spent in excess of £120,000 in bringing this injunction. That’s enough to make even the most financially wealthy hunt think seriously about taking out similar action and this is what we wanted to achieve. Most hunts rely on local land owners to allow them to hunt, the Fitzwilliam are one of the few who own a significant amount of land on which to hunt however they still leave this land for a large amount of their hunt season. With this in mind you have to ask yourself, did they get value for money?

Not really.

All they ended up with was a list of people who couldn’t trespass but could still use public rights of way and open access land within their estate. That’s not really a huge achievement given the level of investment. Their actual hunt country is in the region of 384,000 acres, they only actually own just over 4% of that. Now while they are pushing ahead with the persons unknown part of the injunction it is still a civil action and not something the police can get involved with. Sure, if you break the injunction the claimants can serve you and a judge could send you to prison for contempt of court however for that to happen the claimants have to know who you are. If previous junctions with regards to persons unknown are anything to go by, they would appear to be almost impossible to enforce.

The single biggest factor in favour of the hunt was the level of financial clout they could bring to bear for this undertaking. As normal working people we had no hope of raising the funds necessary to take this to full trial and with the outcome in question there was a real danger of losing what assets we have, had the case not gone our way. Simply put, there was no way I, or any of the others were going to lose their houses over this. All of the named defendants were of course hugely grateful to all the people who donated, some who shall remain nameless pledging some significant sums but having the funds to fight this was only half the story and no reduction in the final risk of having costs awarded against us.

Now the Fitzwilliam and their supporters may think differently, but the simple fact is we came out of this saga a whole lot better than they did.

Finally the costs of achieving this have exceeded what our original Crowd Justice funding covered and has left some of us significantly out of pocket. Please consider helping by donating here: Financial Costs

The battle between those who kill for fun and compassionate who aim to stop them has, and is, being fought on many levels. The front line in the fields of this country is of course where it matters most and were lives are saved but social media has added an extra field on which battle lines can be drawn and there’s no doubt in this department those against hunting have the upper hand.

However in the past there have been other battles fought, this time within the British legal system where hunts have taken their obvious financial advantage and attempted to use in an effort to gain immunity from the attentions of monitors and sab groups alike. I’ve covered this issue before (see here) but those keeping abreast of more recent matters will be aware of the Injunction the Fitzwilliam Hunt have taken out against both myself and several named others.

Before I comment further on the case it should be noted that this legal action could be considered the last big gamble being taken by the Fitzwilliam and most importantly a testament to the effectiveness of our actions over the last couple of seasons. Even though the hunt is owned by Sir Philip Neylor-Leyland (who’s worth in excess of £180M) they are clearly worried, having noted in the court submission that their membership is down by one third and this they lay firmly at our door. We obviously take pride in this and the lives we save by undertaking these actions. If you have any doubt about the type of person we’re dealing with here, prior to it’s banning, Neylor-Leyland was president of the National Coursing Club. He clearly refuses to acknowledge that hunting is also illegal and so throws his considerable financial weight behind the court action in an effort to prop up this failing venture.

The interim hearing took place at the High Court on the 1st November with Mr Justice Freedman presiding.

I took several pages of notes while the hunt’s solicitor bumbled and bluffed his way through their skeleton argument and this could have be concluded in much shorter order and it was clear the evidence presented was poorly organised and very much based on a single theme, that of trespass. Much of what was presented appeared to be confusing and lacking in any kind of accuracy which is demanded by the court. Some of their evidence was nothing more than an utter fabrication. This went on for so long our QC (Ashley Underwood) only had from 2:50pm to the close to put forward our side of the case. The excessively long submission from the hunt would appear to have been planned in an effort to minimse time for our own.

However Ashley spoke concisely and proved hugely superior in both understanding and eloquence in spite of the limited time allowed for our argument. He pointed out the illegality of the hunts methods, the accuracy (or lack therein) of the hunts evidence and the number of contradictions within it, their continued use of false earths, the assaults committed by their supporters and their overall “Victorian attitude” towards land ownership in that any injunction would be purely in an effort to facilitate their continued illegality.

After all of this Mr Justice Freedman let the court know he would take time to consider his verdict and this would be made public on the 16th November.

Exterior of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, commonly called the Law Courts

We now have the ruling and the salient points are thus:

1- There was evidence of repeated trespass by 7 of the Sabs and ‘persons unknown’ and ordered an injunction until a full trial (expected to be March 2019). This would only apply to the land owned by the the hunt, no third parties had applied for an injunction so there would be no injunction in place if the Fitzwilliam left their own land.

2 – He found insufficient evidence against another 7 Sabs and lifted an injunction granted earlier against them and also that there was no justified claim for a harassment injunction.

3 – He refused to order Sabs not to touch Hunt animals. “If animals are permitted to roam, members of the public ought to be able to touch them (without harming them) if they are coming into their own space” This was part of the Trespass to Goods injunction claimed by the hunt and something else which was not approved by the judge (it should be noted that as animals are owned the by the hunt they are classed as goods).

4 – On violence against Sabs:“The 2 defendants did not commit an assault, and they seem to have been pushed. I shall assume that the better of the argument in respect of assaults and criminal damage are that they were caused by the Hunt”. Once again the hunts claims were completely trashed and their statements considered less than truthful.

5 – On whether the Fitzwilliam commits Hunting Act offences he noted: “(The defendants barrister) has made out a persuasive argument that the hunting is illegal. (The Hunt’s barrister) was not able to say much in response about detailed arguments”.

While the injunction for trespass is still in place this can be considered a victory more than a loss. The duty of the judge is to maintain separation between the conflicting parties and the easiest way to do with was to enforce the current trespass injunction however the hunt were denied their requests on pretty much every other aspect of what they were claiming for and crucially their integrity (with regard to evidence supplied) being called into question along with the legality of their hunting methods. Only 3% of what they actually claimed for was granted.

Ex Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams

This will clearly have further ramifications with regards to the appeal against the conviction of their previous huntsman, George Adams as their methods of hunting and claimed use of hunting exemptions has not changed.

The full trial is the next step. Are options are twofold;  Settle or fight. As the Surrey Hunt Monitors tweeted: In the words of one wise barrister “no client ever regretted settling”. But fighting on is also realistic and the hunt should fear a trial more than you as it will expose the realities of hunting even more. But sensible cost protection measures needed. Cost protection indeed, a full trial is likely to see costs in the region of £500K.