Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others
Difficulties with the RSPCA
Submission to DEFRA Animal Welfare Bill Consultation.
There has been nothing said about instituting protections for those who are accused of and investigated for animal welfare matters. Nor has there been anything said about the position of their charitable status should a charity such as the RSPCA be given powers such as those currently held by the police.
The right to prosecute was taken away from the police and given to the Crown Prosecution Service on the grounds that having been directly involved in the investigation the police would have too great an interest in obtaining a successful prosecution. How much more applicable is this concern when applied to the RSPCA who are often campaigning to have the very activities of the people they are investigating made illegal? Bearing in mind that Animal welfare issues often attract "people with a mission" who are the very opposite of objective and impartial, we consider the implementation of proper protections to be paramount before any additional regulating legislation is considered.
When a prosecution has failed, and costs are awarded, even though an RSPCA prosecution is a private prosecution, costs are awarded out of central funds. In other words, even though the police and CPS declined to prosecute, state funds are put at risk. Bearing in mind that those who have been put through the emotional and public misery of being accused of animal neglect or cruelty will not be compensated for the trauma they have suffered while defending themselves, very often while deprived of the animals who are part of their family in the case of pets, or their livelihood in the case of commercial defendants, and that the full extent of the costs incurred is never recovered, protections should be put in place. We would like to see the Attorney General, in the guise of the CPS actually required to quality control such private prosecutions, instead of just having the right to do so, and to have a duty to take them over and abandon them if they consider the prosecution is flawed.
Where protections are present and ignored, so that evidence is obtained illegally, people's property is trespassed on, and their legal and civil rights are ignored, the courts should be required to refuse to admit any evidence so obtained. Where is the encouragement for the investigator to stick to the rules if their misbehaviour is rewarded by the courts allowing them to use unlawfully obtained results?
All those who take animals that have been seized should be required to keep strict records as to where the animals are. When animals subsequently cannot be found there should be punitive fines imposed, starting with a minimum of £5000 and with no upper limit, the courts having the power to punish according to the degree of the breach.
Defendants are already at a severe disadvantage when it comes to proving their innocence due to the RSPCA making full use of the 6 month period they can use to delay a prosecution. Until the person is prosecuted there is no legal aid available for their solicitors to use to send in a specialist veterinary surgeon to assess the condition of the animals seized by the police on behalf of, and handed over to the RSPCA. There is no legal aid available to force the police to return the animals as required by PACE. Very often a summons will arrive a month after it has been issued and a few days before the cut off date. It is imperative that this practise is ended and that severe penalties are provided for tardy prosecutors. We oppose the extension of time to prosecute on the grounds that it will seriously damage the defence. Indeed, bearing in mind the serious implications of such a prosecution, we believe that all such cases should be heard by juries, not magistrates.
In summary we see no need for further legislation to enhance prosecutions, since adequate regulations already exist, but every need for legislation to protect potential defendants from the excesses of an overzealous prosecuting organisation.
The SHG Team
Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others experiencing Difficulties with the RSPCA
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