A NATIONAL animal welfare group is calling for the creation of a new animal welfare inspectorate to replace the RSPCA as the body responsible for bringing prosecutions in cases of cruelty to animals.
In a letter to Minister Ben Bradshaw, Roger Baker, the Chairman of the Conservative Animal Welfare Group (CAWG) and a practising veterinary surgeon, proposes the enhancement of the State Veterinary Service to give: ‘scientific and qualified support to a newly created and fully-trained inspectorate to be operated under the auspices of each local authority and charged with the clear duty to enforce welfare law and to bring prosecutions when and where appropriate’.
Commenting on the proposal, Roger Baker said: ‘It is surely incongruous in this day and age that the responsibility for the enforcement of animal welfare law has been placed upon an animal welfare and rights charity funded by public subscription and not accountable to the electorate.
‘Locally, the RSPCA does great work promoting animal shelters and caring for animals and that has always been its prime purpose. Can it be right for that effort to be diluted at a national level with the twin efforts of political campaigning and legal intervention?
‘I hope that the Minister will seriously consider further amendment to the legislation to place the powers of enforcement of animal welfare law where they should properly lie - with the State - so that we may see an enhanced success rate in both bringing cases of animal abuse to court and in successful prosecution.’
Commenting on CAWG’s statement, a spokesperson for the RSPCA told OUR DOGS:
‘The RSPCA would welcome any extra Government initiatives and funding - at central or local level - to improve animal welfare. The Society would particularly support moves to help and encourage local government authorities to fulfil their statutory obligations on animal welfare - such as better funding to support a stray dog service.
‘However we recognise there is simply no realistic prospect of a new and fully-trained local government inspectorate.
‘The RSPCA's own inspectorate has 182 years of experience behind it, and the men and women who work as RSPCA inspectors are well-respected for their dedication, professionalism and tireless efforts to help animals.
‘In terms of prosecutions, we would also point out that the most recent comparable figures (2002) show there was a 96 per cent success rate for RSPCA animal cruelty prosecutions. The average for prosecuting agencies was 75.8 per cent.’
Calls for Independent Agency
CAWG is the latest organisation to join in the groundswell of concern against the RSPCA’s ‘multi-functional’ involvement in animal welfare, particularly in light of proposals contained within the Government’s flagship Animal Welfare Bill, whereby the RSPCA will be given greater powers of prosecution and even the right to enter premises to remove animals on ‘suspicion of animal cruelty’, whilst local authorities are to carry out inspections on animal sanctuaries and rescues.
It is widely believed that many local authorities will ask the RSPCA to carry out such inspection duties, even though the charity has consistently made a point of saying that it is not seeking greater powers under the AWB.
In the last week, Janet Nunn, Chief Executive of the Pet Care Trust said that the RSPCA’s proposed prosecutions should be passed by an independent body such as the Crown Prosecution Service or the local authority legal department.
This system has been used effectively in Scotland for many years whereby the SSPCA – the RSPCA’s Scottish equivalent - propose prosecutions on a case-by-case basis to the Procurator Fiscal for independent consideration.
Janet Nunn said: ‘The current system lacks independent scrutiny. It’s uncomfortable for England and Wales to have the RSPCA as enforcer, private prosecutor and sole data source, given how they fundraise on the back of prosecutions.’
During the Third Reading of the Animal Welfare Bill in the House of Commons earlier this year, David Ames Conservative MP for Southend West pointed out that the Bill offered no provision for anyone other than the RSPCA to undertake ‘inspection’ duties, along with prosecutions for animal cruelty, saying: ‘Concerns have been raised about changes to the way in which animal welfare regulations are enforced through the introduction of inspection officers with new powers to transfer the custody of animals away from abusive owners.
‘Currently, the RSPCA is the largest private prosecutor for animal welfare offences. It has been investigating abuses and enforcing laws relating to animals for more than 100 years in conjunction with the police, the State Veterinary Service and Customs and Excise. The Bill will not alter this process despite suggestions that the Crown Prosecution Service should be the sole instigator of prosecutions.’
Mr Ames added: that he Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee considered the draft of the Bill in 2004 and concluded that, even though concerns have been raised about links between prosecution and the campaigning arms of the RSPCA, they stated that: ‘there appears to be no body other than the RSPCA with the requisite experience to undertake animal welfare prosecutions’ and that the RSPCA ‘should be able to continue to institute private prosecutions on its own behalf.’
Chris Newman of the Federation of Companion Animal Societies (FOCAS) accused the RSPCA of being too fixated on prosecutions for cruelty rather than education. ‘The RSPCA claim a high success rate in prosecutions,’ said Mr Newman. ‘But there is no independent audit of these figures, so we have to accept their word for them. Does the RSPCA use the same criteria for prosecutions as the Crown Prosecution Service? I have studied 30 cases where prosecutions have been brought and in every one there was no element of ‘education’, no prior visit to the person in question – there was a raid, animals were seized and there was a prosecution.’