General Observations on Game and the Game Laws
The Game Laws, by which term is meant those statutes which establish a peculiar kind of property in wild animals, trace their origin to two principles of Common Law; the first is, that physical possession is the underlying idea of the law of property: as wild animals cannot, by their nature, be so physically possessed, no property in them can be recognized: they are res nullius; the second principle or maxim of the Common Law of England is that res nullius, that is, goods in which no person can claim any property, belong by royal prerogative to the Sovereign. Those animals accordingly, those ferae naturae which come under the denomination of game, are in our laws styled His or Her Majesty's, and may, therefore, as a matter of course, be granted by the Sovereign to another; in consequence of this royal privilege another may prescribe to possess the same rights within a certain precinct of lordship. Hence arose the rights of lords of manors and others to the game within their respective liberties; and to protect this right innumerable Acts of Parliament were passed. Many of these inflicted penalties of extraordinary severity upon persons convicted of illegally killing game; but they are now all abrogated, and the principal statutes, composing what are known as the Game Laws, may be enumerated as follows: 9 Geo. IV c. 69, referred to as the Night Poaching Act; 1 and 2 William IV c. 32, the Game Act; 11 and 12 Vict. c. 29, the Hares Killing Act; and 23 and 24 Vict. c. 90, the Game Licences Act; to these must be added 43 and 44 Vict. c. 35, the Wild Birds' Protection Act. It is the Game Act of William IV that concedes to any one the right to kill game on his own ground, irrespective of qualifications of rank or property, game being defined in this statute, as in the earlier one of George IV, to include "hares, pheasants, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game, black game, and bustards." This Act, however, requires all persons killing or pursuing game to take out a yearly certificate; and dealers selling it must also obtain a yearly licence.