LANDOWNERS could be prosecuted if illegal fox-hunting takes place on their property, under new plans designed to tighten up the law on hunting with dogs in Scotland.

A report by judge Lord Bonomy also recommended the use of independent hunt monitors as part of a series of measures to help improve muddled legislation passed in 2002.

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Although the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act said a person who deliberately hunts a wild mammal with a dog is committing an offence, the last 14 years have seen repeated complaints that the law is rendered ineffective through loopholes and a lack of clarity.

There have been no successful prosecutions and police have called the law “unworkable”.

Mounted hunts are still able to offer a "pest control" service to farmers and estate managers, flushing out foxes so that they can be shot.

Last weekend, two charities claimed a fox had been fatally injured by dogs during a recent hunt in Renfrewshire, then shot afterwards.

Tasked by ministers with improving the legislation, Lord Bonomy said aspects of the 2002 law unduly complicated “the detection, investigation and prosecution of alleged offences”, and there was a need to tighten the language to ensure "greater consistency and clarity”.

He suggested the appointment of part-time, independent hunt monitors to observe hunts using packs of hounds, underpinned by a code of practice.

In addition, minsters should consider “vicarious liability”, meaning landowners who permitted a hunt on their land could be held culpable if an offence was committed.

The time limit for bringing prosecutions under the 2002 Act should also be extended.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: "We remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of welfare for our wild animals.

"We will now carefully consider the findings, with a view to responding in 2017. Any ensuing proposals for legislative change will be subject to the proper consultation processes."

Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, warned ministers against introducing vicarious liability.

He said: "We would hope Scottish Government do not apply vicarious liability to a landholder who permits such activities on her/his land. It is often essential to have access to fringe or neighbouring land to get to an area where foxes are numerous."

Scottish Countryside Alliance Director Jamie Stewart welcomed the report, but added: “We do not agree there is a significant problem with the enforcement of the current legislation.

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“As recently as 13 January 2016, Police Scotland confirmed to MSPs that there ‘is no evidence to suggest that the mounted fox hunts that exist are acting outwith the legislation’.

“Given the recognition in the report of the importance of gun packs in fox control, it is vitally important that any changes to the legislation should not undermine their operation.”

Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said Lord Bonomy’s “robust and detailed examination” showed why the current law didn’t work.

“The ball is now firmly in the Scottish Government's court. The law isn't fit for purpose and, in keeping with the commitments made by the First Minister to strengthen the law if necessary, we look to the Government to strengthen the law before the end of the current fox hunting season in March 2017."

Labour environment spokesman David Stewart said: “Following the reports of recent days it is clearer than ever that the SNP must work to improve the protection of wild animals, including foxes. If there is clear evidence that legislation to prevent hunting with dogs needs strengthened then that is what the SNP government must do without delay."

Green MSP Mark Ruskell added: “Those who value barbaric tradition over animal welfare and rule of law have found many loopholes to exploit. Lord Bonomy's report is clear that changes are needed to introduce greater restriction and monitoring of hunting and that landowners should also be liable for breaches of the law.”

LibDem MSP Mike Rumbles said the SNP should “take this opportunity to bring their actions into line with their rhetoric" with a new code for rural communities.