When John Thornley co-authored the book Fair Game, the Law of Countysports & Protection of Wildlife he did a considerable amount of research into such powers. The issues require clarification to ensure gamekeepers, occupiers and those assisting do not expose themselves to counter-claims when dealing with poachers.
The following information has been drawn up by John Thornley OBE:
It is correct that under Section 13 of the Game Act, 1831, specially-appointed gamekeepers can seize dogs, nets and other equipment (instruments) used for killing or taking game – but firearms are not specifically included. Neither are they considered to fall within the meaning of ‘other instruments’. It was thought in the case of Daddle v Hickton(1868) that the legislation had never intended this Section to include a gun because of the serious consequences that may arise from gamekeepers attempting to seize them. There is no power within poaching legislation expressly authorising gamekeepers to seize firearms under any circumstances. This must be left to the police.
More importantly, it should be appreciated that the vast majority of gamekeepers do not even have these powers, since very few are specially appointed. Such appointments are restricted to Lords of Manors, Lordships and Royalty and have to be registered with local authorities. These provisions for enhancing certain gamekeepers’ powers have largely fallen into disuse. So, under Section 36 Game Act, 1831, the majority of gamekeepers only have a legal power to seize from poachers recently-killed game and nothing else – day or night. Neither do they have a right to search poachers or their belongings.
Gamekeepers who search poachers and seize property other than game are therefore at risk from claims of assault and civil action. They may also jeopardise any subsequent prosecution.