Troubled by the Hunt
This leaflet explains the legal position regarding Hunts, their riders, supporters and hounds entering land and property uninvited and possibly causing damage.
The leaflet will be useful to landowners, livestock owners and pet owners who will be able to follow various procedures depending upon the circumstances. It is not intended to be an exhaustive statement of your legal rights. In all cases of doubt you should consult your legal advisers.
Your Rights and the Hunts' Rights
Contrary to popular belief, Hunts do not have any special rights to cross lands as and when they please. Hunts have no rights to enter or cross the vast majority of land and/or property in this country.
However property may be held subject to a number of "rights" belonging to other parties. "Sporting rights" could be held by hunters or sporting clubs. Occasionally an "easement" may affect the title deeds to a property which might mean that the land is held subject to the right of a hunt to meet on or hunt over the lands in question.
The existence of sporting rights or an easement to hunt should be clearly identified on the title deeds to the property. It is important to clarify if such rights exist before taking any legal steps.
Property might also be held subject to "rights of way" in favour of other parties. If a hunt enjoys such a right of way over your property it is confined to the laneway or pathway designated as such. The hunt has no right to stray off the designated right of way.
The conduct of a hunt is the responsibility of the Master or joint masters of the hunt and any legal steps should be taken against these individuals.
The Irish Council Against Blood Sports can supply names and addresses of current Masters of all hunts.
Each hunting season there are numerous recorded incidents of hunts invading private property causing damage, worrying livestock and even killing pets.
All such incidents should be reported to the Gardaí who may be able to take action in extreme cases. However the majority of incidents of hunt trespass are a matter for civil law and this leaflet is designed to assist in these cases. The Irish Council Against Blood Sports is pleased to supply initial advice free of charge to any individual troubled by the hunt.
Should an unauthorised entry occur on your property a letter of complaint should be forwarded to the master of the hunt involved in every case. A copy of this letter properly dated should be retained for record purposes. If there is no satisfactory response we suggest that you should immediately contact your solicitor.
If no material damage has been suffered a claim for compensation for trespass can nevertheless be made. A solicitor should send a letter to the hunt and then if necessary issue court proceedings for compensation and for protection of your rights. The hunt may pay a sum into court in satisfaction or alternatively make a settlement offer. Legal advice should be obtained regarding acceptance or otherwise of any such offer.
Trespass and Material Damage
If damage has occurred for example to fences, crops, livestock or pets the value and nature of such damage must be independently assessed by a professional surveyor, auctioneer, veterinary surgeon or as the case may be. A letter should be sent by your solicitor to the hunt and this may be followed by a court action which includes a claim for damages and for trespass. The hunt may make a payment into court or a settlement offer, If this payment or offer covers the value of your loss, it would be advisable to accept it.
For both trespass and for trespass with material damage a solicitor should also demand a written undertaking from the hunt master that they, their members and employees or their hounds will not enter your property on any future occasion. If there are two or three separate occasions of trespass, with or without material damage, careful consideration should be given to an application to court for an injunction restraining the hunt from further entry. At this stage it is essential to obtain legal advice from your solicitor.
Note: It is important to establish a proper record of all incidents. You should not accept apologies or "off the record" compensation from the hunt unless accompanied by a written undertaking that the incident will not recur.
It is a sensible safeguard to keep a loaded camera ready if you anticipate unauthorised entry onto your property by a hunt. If you are using a video camera try to make sure that the date and time are recorded on the tape. Photographic evidence of an entry is not essential and it is the exception rather than the norm. Nevertheless a photograph can be irrefutable evidence of entry.
One eye witness to the entry is sufficient to initiate legal action but two or more such witnesses are preferable. The master of the hunt is liable for the action of hunt members and the hounds under his control but the entry must be established by evidence. Any other evidence which may be useful should also be retained.
Warning Off Letters
Where the hunt have no legal rights, to ensure that there can be no dispute about property boundaries or a hunt having permission to use your lands you should in any case of doubt send a letter by registered post to the master or joint masters of the hunt or hunts which operate within your area.
I wish to place on record that you have no permission or right to cross my property at...
My property is closed to the officials, followers, horses and hounds of your hunt. In the event of entry on my property, appropriate legal action will be taken against you for damages.
It is essential to retain a copy of each letter and proof of posting.
There may be several hunts operating in the vicinity of your property. A plan of your property clearly showing the boundaries should if available accompany each letter.
The standard procedure for most hunts is to send out cards warning people that the hunt will be in the area within a few days. If hunt officials are not informed to the contrary they sometimes assume that they can enter private property. This of course would not be correct. It is not an argument which could be used in defence in any court action or claim for low damages and trespass. However it might be used in mitigation to plead for low damages and costs, etc. A short and firm "warning off" letter as above negates the use of these cards and will leave the hunt with little or no defence should they or their hounds wrongfully enter your property.
While court action is a last resort you must be prepared to take court action if there is no alternative in order to prevent the hunt from entering your property. If after court proceedings there is a reasonable payment into court or an offer or tender of a reasonable sum it is advisable to accept it thus avoiding a trail. If such a payment into court is refused by you the case will proceed to a court hearing. You should in all cases seek full and careful advice form your solicitors on the legal implications of a payment into court. If a payment into court is not accepted you may have exposure in relation to the costs of the legal action and you should seek full advice from your solicitor on this.
If a property owner continues to suffer trespass regardless of financial penalties the courts may grant an order to prevent further trespass by the hunt. This order is called an injunction. A court will take into account all relevant factors in deciding whether an injunction is necessary to protect a property owners' rights.
A permanent injunction will only be granted after a full trial of the issues and the costs of such a trial may be high. If the injunction is granted the hunt will have to pay the vast majority of the legal costs. If the injunction is refused the amount paid into court is likely to be the deciding matter as to who pays the cost of the action.
Points to Remember