New changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act have been brought into force, following sustained NFU lobbying.
The changes to the Bill will help deter hare coursers by giving police the means to seize more dogs and by lifting the existing limit on fines. Those found guilty of hare coursing under the Game Acts can now be given an unlimited fine, as well as facing up to six months imprisonment.
Two new criminal offences have been brought into law:
- Trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare.
- Being equipped to trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare both punishable on conviction by an unlimited fine and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.
New powers allow the courts to order convicted offenders to reimburse costs incurred by the police in kennelling seized dogs, as well as disqualifying those convicted from owning or keeping a dog.
Unauthorised encampments will also be subject to prosecution when guilty parties do not leave when asked by the landowner or tenant, with offenders facing strengthened penalties.
A new offence and accompanying power enable the police to seize property, including vehicles, where individuals reside or intend to reside on the land. Those found guilty of the offence will be liable to imprisonment for up to three months or a fine not exceeding £2,500.
The new act also amends the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to broaden the list of harms that can be considered by the police; increase the period in which persons moved on cannot return from three to 12 months, and allow police to direct trespassers away from roads.
NFU vice president David Exwood said: “It is fantastic news that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act now gives the police more powers to protect rural communities from destructive and intimidating criminal activity.
“The NFU identified the original Bill as an appropriate piece of legislation for dealing with hare coursing and worked closely with the government to include significant amendments.
“Hare coursing and illegal encampment can both cause significant damage to farmland and wildlife, something farmers across the country experience all too often, with little repercussions for offenders. 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 families, and we will continue to work with government and rural police forces to ensure these strengthened laws are utilised to deliver meaningful results – a decline in cases of rural crime.”