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
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
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
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
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