RSPCA ending private prosecutions of animal cruelty offenders.

RSPCA

But RSPCA will seek statutory powers under the Animal Welfare Act.

The RSPCA has recently announced that they are withdrawing from their prosecuting role by ending private prosecutions of animal cruelty offenders as part of their new Together for Animal Welfare 2021-2030 Strategy Plan. Considering that they instigate 95% of all the prosecutions taken under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 this leaves quite a vacuum to fill particularly when the police and government have relied on them for so long to do this work for them.

This decision, although not stated, is no doubt influenced by the fact that it costs tens of millions of pounds to take these actions and the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted their funds to the point where they have made hundreds of staff redundant and closed many of their facilities.

This announcement will please many MP’s, judges and certain sections of the legal profession who have long been uncomfortable about the RSPCA prosecuting and have repeatably campaigned to stop them. In 2016 the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee said the charity should only bring cases to court in exceptional cases. And it will of course be of great news and a relief to all those involved in animal abuse.

RSPCA inspectors will continue to investigate.

But the RSPCA are pointing out that their inspectors will “still be rescuing, investigating and collecting evidence of cruelty and abuse and seeking to hand this over to the CPS and we would like to reassure the public that we would not step back from the role of prosecuting unless we are assured that the CPS has the commitment, the resources, and the expertise to make sure that animals continue to get the justice they deserve.

The use of the word seeking does not give much confidence that the over stretched Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Police will give much priority to animal welfare prosecutions  There is also scope for a great difference in opinion and interpretation between professional legal minds and empathetic animal welfare professionals as to what cases should be subject to prosecution which will result in a low priority being given to animal welfare cases. At the moment the CPS do not seem that keen on the idea.

Will cases ever reach the courts without the RSPCA

On the surface this all seems rather alarming for the future welfare of English and Welsh animals but confusingly the RSPCA have also stated that “We will work with governments in Westminster and Cardiff to achieve statutory powers for our inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act 2006”. This means that they will endeavour to persuade the Governments to give their inspectors similar powers of entry and seizure as the Police and local authority inspectors.

This blog has pointed out many times before that other countries like Australia, New Zealand and  the USA have successfully given such powers to animal charity officers, but the RSPCA have always been very tentative on this subject before because of paranoia in the media and a backlash from the legal profession. In 2015 they stepped back from prosecuting hunting because they feared media attention would affect their reputation.

The Government recently raised the maximum punishment for animal cruelty to 5 years imprisonment and increased the fines to much acclaim and fanfare but for what purpose if the cases never reach the courts.

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Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.

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