Hunt's legal bills queried

LAWYERS for the Quantock stag hunt are demanding payment for a barrister's hunting trip as part of their £250,000 claim for costs against Somerset County Council.

Sir Robert Carnwath QC, now a judge, made the outing with the Devon and Cornwall hunt in preparation to challenge Somerset's attempt to ban the Quantock (pictured above).

The Quantock team is also claiming reimbursement for interviews to journalists, stress counselling for hunt supporters, and “twice” the normal hourly rate for their own services.

Matthew Knight, the hunt's solicitor, insists the items are legitimate claims for costs

incurred as a result of Somerset's failed ban attempt.

Knight, a field sports specialist who runs Knight's of Tunbridge Wells, says: “We have incurred very substantial expenses for these clients.

“We are looking to get back as much as we can. I regard that as my duty as a solicitor.”

The council has branded the 85-page bill “quite outrageous” and vowed to challenge it, after its own lawyers estimated the cost at £115,000.

Chris Clarke, council leader, says: “We are not putting up with nonsense like this. We will fight it every step of the way. We will pay reasonable legal fees, but we are not financing a gravy train.”

Somerset voted to ban stag hunting on its land two years ago. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal ruled the decision unlawful. Councillors must now decide whether to appeal in the House of Lords.

Costs in the claim include:

– Lawyers' fees “doubled” by 100 per cent uplift.

– A £4,000 psychologists' bill for four stress counselling sessions for hunt supporters.

– Interviews with BBC Radio Bristol, Australian TV and Horse and Hound magazine.

– Expenses for hunt witnesses who never appeared in court.

Knight says the bill was a “first draft” which must go to a High Court judge for taxation.

He says Sir Robert needed to spend a day hunting to get a “feel” for the subject. High uplift was justified by the complex nature of the case.