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Mandatory membership of local hunt breaches property rights

Property owners opposed to hunting should not be forced to allow it on their land

28 June 2012

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National laws forcing landowners to allow hunting on their land were a breach of their right to peaceful enjoyment of property, the European human rights court has ruled.

Gunter Herrmann, a German landowner opposed to hunting on ethical grounds, challenged provisions in the German Hunting Act which automatically made him a member of the local hunt.

The rules also required landowners to allow hunting on their land, which Mr Herrmann said breached his rights under Article 1 of the Protocol 1 to the human rights convention.

His application to have his name removed from the hunt was refused.

Finding in Mr Herrmann’s favour the grand chamber of the Strasbourg court confirmed previous rulings in similar cases against France in 1999 and Luxembourg in 2007.

The German authorities and courts – including Germany’s constitutional court – had found that while the law was an interference with Mr Hermann’s property rights, it could be justified in the interest of managing wildlife, controlling the spread of diseases and preventing damage to crops.

Reversing a ruling by the first instance chamber, which had adopted the same approach, the grand chamber said in Herrmann v Germany (application 9300/07) that the obligation on landowners opposed to hunting on ethical grounds to allow hunting on their land was a disproportionate burden on the individuals concerned.

Germany sought to distinguish the case from the 1999 decision of Chassagnou v France where the European court established that similar rules breached property rights.

According to the German government the ruling in Chassagnou was based on the fact that French law, unlike the German Hunting Act, only applied to certain regions rather than the whole of the country.

The court said this was not a material difference. The aim of the rules was similar and constituted an unjustifiable interference with landowners’ property rights.

The court also rejected Germany’s argument that landowners were eligible for financial compensation for the interference which wasn’t available under French laws.

Landowners may be eligible for compensation, the European judges said, but only if they applied for it, which didn’t sit comfortably with the respect for ethical objection.

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Protocol 1 - Article 1

Protection of property

Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.

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