The SHG response to the Legal Aid Consultation


We run a help line which provides general and legal advice for people who have run into difficulties in the field of Animal Welfare Law.  Usually this involves the RSPCA, and crosses the boundaries between criminal and civil law.  We put people in touch with solicitors who are experts in Animal Welfare Law.


This area of law is extremely specialised and there are only a handful of solicitors round the country who could be said to be experts in their field.  Clients who have instructed solicitors who are not specialists in Animal Welfare Law may find that they receive the wrong advice and we have several clients who are attempting to change their initial Guilty plea after having received expert advice. 



It is false economy if the system in place forces people into the position of feeling that they have to appeal the original judgement.  The following figures are taken from our evidence as submitted to the EFRA committee hearings on the Animal Welfare Bill:  The number of defendants who pleaded not guilty in prosecutions brought by the RSPCA is almost 3 times greater than that in prosecutions brought by the CPS, the number of defendants who appealed in prosecutions brought by the RSPCA is almost 3 times greater than in prosecutions brought by the CPS and the number of defendants who were successful in their appeals in prosecutions brought by the RSPCA is over 4 times greater than successful appeals in prosecutions brought by the CPS.



A copy of the EFRA submission containing these figures can be found at or if required we will provide a copy.



Due to the current way Legal Aid franchises are awarded, one case can necessitate the use of two different firms of solicitors for the same client.  For example, applications for return of animals are civil, but criminal proceedings are likely to be brought.



Furthermore, because Legal Aid does not become available until a summons is issued the client’s case is seriously damaged in terms of enabling experts to be instructed and to inspect the animals and their conditions at the relevant time.



A further problem is that intense pressure may be put on clients to sign their animals over to the RSPCA before any proceedings are initiated.  Vulnerable people, often elderly, have no idea of their rights. 



Cases may be long and complex, including several defendants, many, sometimes hundreds of animals, and run into several days or even weeks.  The case will usually hinge on expert evidence.  It is going to be absolutely impossible to run such cases  on a fixed cost basis.



Prosecutions are often spurred by campaigns the RSPCA are running at the time.  For instance, in 1999 the RSPCA wrote to all local authorities stating  that they were opposed to the sale of animals in pet shops.  This letter has never been retracted and their policy remains unchanged.  How then can the RSPCA comply with the Code for Crown Prosecutors which requires a prosecutor to be “fair, independent and objective”  Indeed, how can the RSPCA be in any way independent when investigating the very activities that it is often campaigning to prohibit?



An example of the results of this conflict of interest is the case of a pet shop in Doncaster which was told that if they handed in their pet shop licence the prosecution against them would be dropped.  They defended the case with the aid of a solicitor specialising in Animal Welfare Law with the result being that the case was thrown out at half time.  Had this advice not been available up to five people would have lost their jobs.



We can provide further examples and people prepared to give evidence if required.



The SHG believes that Animal Welfare Law should be classified as a Specialist Area.



People should must retain the right to instruct their specialist solicitor of choice even if that means instructing firms outside their Legal Aid catchment area if they are to receive a fair trial.


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