The RSPCA last week issued a statement denying a claim that they were on a list of ‘authority’ figures who would be given the power to impose on the spot fines.
According to a report in The Sunday Times, the government was said to be considering extending the power to issue on-the-spot fines to ‘authority’ figures other than the police, in a bid to free up police time. This could include RSPCA inspectors, who would be given the same right as police officers to mete out summary justice for offences expected to include theft and cruelty to animals.
At the moment notices are handed out by police officers and, to a lesser extent, community support officers and neighbourhood wardens. The Home Office is preparing a much longer list of the types of people who would then be "accredited" by their local chief constable to issue the notices.
News that RSPCA Inspectors could be amongst those empowered in such a way was greeted with concern by the Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA, who said they were "appalled" at the possibility. This news comes as at least one local authority (Luton) is considering cutting its dog warden service due to lack of funding and as the Animal Welfare Bill (AWB) is about to go to Report stage. The SHG believes that despite Government claims, it is clear that there will be no new money for local authorities under the AWB and that the RSPCA will become the default Inspectors.
A spokesperson for the SHG told OUR DOGS: "Animal keepers will be utterly powerless to protect their pets when faced with an Inspector who will have, in addition to sweeping powers granted to him under the new AWB, the right to issue an on the spot fine to anyone whose behaviour he thinks is threatening or anti-social. Any animal keeper who dares to get upset if an RSPCA inspector criticises the care he has provided for his animal, or because the inspector intends to remove his animal is going to be at risk of such a penalty."
However, Rebecca Hawkes from the RSPCA Press Office denied that the RSPCA were seeking powers to impose "on the spot" fines, saying: "The RSPCA has not been in discussions with the Home Office about 'on the spot' fines, nor has requested such powers of any government department.
We are completely bemused as to why we, as a non-governmental organisation, were included in the Sunday Times story. The aim of each private prosecution the RSPCA takes is to deter both the culprit and others from inflicting cruelty on animals in the future. Giving an 'on the spot fine' to someone who had been neglecting or inflicting cruelty on an animal would not save that animal from further risk - and therefore would not be something sought by the RSPCA."