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Are Shooting and Fishing Fit Hobbies for Judges? - 27/08/2008
 
An “Animal Rights Activist” appeals against his sentence and conviction
1. A man found guilty at the end of the longest animal rights trial in legal history has launched an appeal, because he asserts that “the judge should not have heard the case because of his interest in blood sports.” Sean Kirtley, aged 42 years, of Malvern, Worcestershire, is serving a 4 ½-year term at HMP Blakenhurst. He “is a lifelong opponent of animal testing who has also campaigned against shooting.” In an appeal submitted last month, lawyers claim that Judge Ross should not have presided over the case "in order to prevent the appearance of bias".

2. His Honor Judge Peter Ross, aged 55 years, is a former director of the Office for Supervision of Solicitors. He has been a circuit judge since 2004 and hears most of his cases at Coventry Crown Court. He describes his hobbies in his entry in Who's Who as "shooting, smallholding, gardening, and fishing". In a letter issued during the trial and in a letter to lawyers, as submissions were being presented, Judge Ross, disclosing that "one of my hobbies is game shooting", concluded: "I do not consider that I should disqualify myself from hearing this case and believe that I can give all parties the fair hearing that they are entitled to." He attached a copy of his Who's Who entry.

3. Sean Kirtley was sentenced to a 4 ½-year term in jail for his part in a prolonged campaign against Sequani Ltd. In addition to the custodial sentence, he received a 5-year anti-social behavior order, which will come into effect on his release. The case, which has been unreported until now, concluded an investigation, Operation Tornado, which involved 120 officers. The subsequent trial cost more than £4.5m. Of 14 people charged in connexion with long-running protests at Sequani, in Ledbury, Worcestershire, seven stood trial. Only Kirtley and a second man, Daniel Griffiths, 39, who admitted two charges of “interfering with the contractual relationships of an animal research establishment”, were convicted. Griffiths received a 30-week jail term suspended for two years.

4. Mike Schwarz, Kirtley's solicitor, remarking on the judge’s hobbies, complained of an unfair law which deviates from normal principles of criminal justice and the result is that “what many people might see as conventional protesting becomes criminalised at all levels." He also objected that the jury was prevented from seeing evidence of the work carried out at Sequani after it was ruled inadmissible (Sequani, which “assesses the safety of healthcare products” has been the target of demonstrations for nearly two decades). The Judicial Communications Department, which represents judges, said: "We cannot comment on matters that are the subject of appeal."

5. Kirtley's supporters say that prosecution witnesses conceded that while he was present at the demonstrations, Kirtley was "silent and peaceful" throughout. Speaking at the conclusion of the 18-week trial, Inspector Dave Williams of West Mercia Police described Kirtley, of Malvern, Worcestershire, as "a dedicated animal rights activist who devoted a significant part of his life to leading an organized, systematic, and sustained campaign to target Sequani Ltd with the ultimate aim of closing the company down."

6. The fox hunters’ cubbing season opens as placings of poults intended to become turkeys for Christmas are underway. Another instance of political and legal activity in countryside activities and where “bias fears force anti-hunt judge to stand aside in animal welfare case” emerged with a report (The Times 29 July 2008). A High Court judge, Mr Justice Cranston “ruled himself out of a case” involving hunting yesterday, after it emerged that he had spoken out against the sport’s “barbarity” and voted for a ban when he was an MP. The judge, a Solicitor-General in Tony Blair’s Government, was due to hear a dispute between “huntsmen and animal welfare activists.” He stood aside after legal argument when lawyers representing an alliance of landowners in Sussex raised “formal objections.”

7. A four-day case was due to begin in an attempt by the Crawley and Horsham Hunt on behalf of 88 landowners to ban animal welfare activists from land in West Sussex. The hunt had hoped to win an injunction against the West Sussex Wildlife Protection Group and its main organizers, Simone and Jaine Wilde.

8. Sir Ross Cranston, accepted that it was inappropriate for him to continue as judge in the case after Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, for the hunt, alerted the court to his views on hunting. Counsel argued that, “while not suggesting that the judge would be biased,” there might be “an appearance of bias” in the eyes of the public.

9. As Trustees of VEGA, we are animal welfarists with active associations with well-organized annual street demonstrations and marches in London against the Royal Smithfield Show and vigils at livestock markets and auctions, many of which are now no longer in business. Our testimony aided and abetted the indomitable McLibel pair to win a verdict on their persistent campaigning and leafleting that McDonald’s was proven “guilty of culpable cruelty” (to non-human animals). Further, passage of the Animal Welfare Act and the anti-hunting Acts before it (and possible repeal with a change of government), as well as the objections on environmental grounds of fishing for recreational and food-yielding reasons, demonstrate a consistent concern to keep a genuine peace and attain a harmony with wildlife and our neighbors and companions.

10. NGOs, charities, and ‘lost’ causes struggle against caucuses set in the ways of comfort, convenience, and security that we’ve been accustomed to. Recovery from the austerity – in Europe, anyway – of WW2 has generated indulgence and fecklessness that weakens the altruism and resolution that gave attention to deeper passions of life, the environment, and appreciation of all living things. Expressions of liberty and human rights have become dominated by dubious quests for satisfaction and pleasure, in which relationships among our own species and with others have become brittle and one-sided.

11. Efforts at establishing 5-Freedom welfare for non-human animals run into contentious issues of nanny-statism and interference that provoke controversy even in focused human issues with anthropocentrism dominant. Public opinions, as expressed in opinion polls are quirky and inflamed unhelpfully by lazy and ill-informed reporters. The mighty Times certainly takes note of the momentous issues of G8 conferences and the like but it should give short shrift to the corps of commentators who ignore the well-meaning intentions of workers, NGOs, and charities working to better the common weal. The Times now has the effrontery to present its commentators’ opinions before exposing their readers to objective accounts of the real world. The Independent, estimable in many ways (as in printing informative obituaries), began this campaigning style and emphasizing editorial opinion. While readers have to suffer these insults and attempts at ordering priorities for themselves, they can bear in mind that the Times was off the streets for nearly a year, notwithstanding all the preferences, advertising revenue, and expert commentators it has attracted.

12. We remind judges, commentators, and reporters that shooting and fishing, “especially for sport” offend many people’s ideas of fair play, even to the point where they suffer privations and inconvenience in avoiding complicity in the offences they decry on good grounds. Violence and terrorism on either side disgraces their causes, but we have to alert welfarists in many causes to refresh their intelligence, information, and effectiveness for populations who otherwise have no voice in alien and inimical circumstances. VEGA is a scientific research trust working as a team forswearing egotistical flights of derring-do in uncompromised advocacy of fair play. We constantly want to hear from aspiring recruits able to contribute in general or specialized ways or on specific commitments off-site. It may be that attitudes to countryside “sports” and “rights to roam” on public and private land will change notably if epidemics of zoonotic diseases and other threats result in curtailments of all the major aspects of movements of livestock over public and private land deny free range activities as the grim reapers of culls and marauding gangs of “sport” activists bias the ecology with restrictions due to effects of avian flu, bluetongue virus, TB, foot-and-mouth, Lyme disease, and hydatidosis (echinococuss) belittling the harm to farming due to huntin’, shootin’, and fishing and violence that’s unleashed and is as deplorable as the behavior of yobs who disgrace the reputations of games on the soccer pitch.  
 
 

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