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RSPCA should continue to prosecute

Issue: 10/02/2017

The government has ignored a parliamentary report and decided that the RSPCA should continue to prosecute animal cruelty cases.
On the 16th November the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee published its Animal Welfare in England report which called for the RSPCA to step back from prosecutions apart from exceptional cases.
At the time the chair of the committee Neil Parish said, 'The RSPCA does important working investigating animal welfare cases. And I would like to see its dedicated and professional staff continue that vital work. The Committee is not convinced, however, that the RSPCA is in a better position than the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when it comes to prosecuting animal welfare cases. It should step back from making prosecutions itself, continuing instead to work closely with the police and prosecution service to protect the welfare of animals.'
A statement in the EFRA report said, 'The Committee does not believe that the current model in England and Wales where the RSPCA brings private prosecutions alongside its investigative, campaigning and fundraising functions provides the necessary separation to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.
'We recommend that the Government look at amending current legislation to make the RSPCA a Specialist Reporting Authority.'


The RSPCA responded to the EFRA report by saying, 'The RSPCA today reassured supporters that it will continue its long history of prosecuting horrific cases of animal abuse and neglect despite calls to the contrary by a small number of MPs.'
RSPCA officials were called to bring evidence to the committee last summer and were pressed as to why they felt that they could do a better job than the CPS. In Scotland the SSPCA does not prosecute and they pass cases on to the Procurator Fiscal, the Scottish equivalent of the CPS. 
The Scottish model is seen by some to be more robust and it was revealed that in 2015 the RSPCA spent 4 and half million pounds on prosecutions and got just 974,000 back in costs.
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) made a submission to the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) saying that a government agency would to better equipped to take on the prosecution role from the RSPCA with greater accountability.
To defend their position as prosecutors the representatives from the charity have argued that they have more experience in animal welfare, if the prosecutions had to be made by the police it would take up manpower and the law would need to change to instruct the CPS.
The two main reasons why the government has given for allowing the RSPCA to carry on making prosecutions are the principle that everyone has a right to make a private prosecution and they believe it would cost more if animal welfare cases were handed to the CPS. According to the RSPCA it can spend up to 8 million a year on prosecutions.
The Government said: '[We] do not consider, at this time, that the RSPCA should be made a specialist reporting authority. Instead we believe that the RSPCA should be given the opportunity to implement the recommendations of the Wooler Review and demonstrate its commitment to responding to the concerns that have been raised by the Committee.'
In 2013 Stephen Wooler conducted an independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA and recommended a number of changes including the creation of and appeals process and an independent audit committee. 


He wrote, 'its prosecution role has failed to develop to accord with contemporary expectations of transparency and accountability - issues recognised by my terms of reference. It therefore needs to adapt.'
Mr Wooler also identified that, 'the RSPCA is very pro-active as a law enforcement agency and in practice operates as a specialist (private) police force with an associated prosecution role.'
Critics often take exception on the fact the RSPCA is an organisation that both investigates and prosecutes and has other roles, such as campaigning, that are incompatible with its position as a de facto prosecution authority.
Wooler said, 'The current arrangements do achieve separation of functions insofar as prosecution decisions are not taken by those who investigate - but not in the same way as by the police and Crown Prosecution Service in different organisations.' 
Jeremy Cooper, chief executive of the RSPCA, said: 'We are extremely pleased that the Government continues to recognise the exceptional role carried out by the RSPCA in investigating and prosecuting those accused of the worst cases of animal cruelty and neglect.
'We know that the public overwhelmingly wants us to undertake this role, and we welcome the support we have to carry out our prosecutions work from vets, local authorities and other animal welfare organisations.'
The government have also ignored the recommendation that maximum penalty for animal welfare offences are increased from 51 weeks to five years. They say, 'Current sentencing practice for offences of animal cruelty in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 does not suggest that the courts are finding current sentencing powers inadequate.'

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