NFU win as hare coursing and illegal encampment laws are strengthened

28 April 2022

Image of brown hare in a field

NFU lobbying has resulted in changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which will help protect farms from hare coursing and illegal encampments.

The changes to the Bill, which has been given Royal Assent today, will help deter hare coursers by giving police forces the means to seize more dogs and by lifting the existing limit on fines.

It will also mean that 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.

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 behavior 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.”

More information

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

  • Increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game under the Game Acts (the Game Act 1831 and the Night Poaching Act 1828) to an unlimited fine and introducing the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment.
  • Two new criminal offences: 
    • 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 for the courts to order convicted offenders to reimburse costs incurred by the police in kennelling dogs seized in connection with a hare coursing-related offence.
  • 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 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act include:  

  • A new offence and an accompanying power for the police to seize property (including vehicles) 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 of the land, their representative or a constable and they have caused, or are likely to cause significant damage, disruption, or distress (including anti-social behaviour).
  • A person guilty of this offence will be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (currently £2,500), or both.
  • The Act also amends the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to: 
    • Broaden the list of harms (i.e., the extent of damage, disruption & distress) that can be considered by the police when directing people away from land. 
    • Increase the period in which persons directed away from land must not return from three months to 12 months.
    • Allow police to direct trespassers away from roads.