Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Annex 4


  Under the Animal Health Bill it will become an offence for anyone without lawful authority or excuse knowingly to do anything which causes or is intended to cause an animal to be infected with a serious animal disease. These are the diseases specified in the new Schedule 2A to the Animal Health Act to be inserted by the Bill.

  The Minister would need sufficient evidence of deliberate infection to support a prosecution. If sufficient proof could be obtained in due course by investigating epidemiologists, vets, Local Authority inspectors and DEFRA's own investigation branch, this matter would be pursued in the courts.

  Regardless of whether a prosecution was conducted, there would remain an obligation under the Animal Health Act 1981 as amended to pay at least the basic amount of compensation (ie 75 per cent of the pre-FMD value of the animals).To deprive someone of the remainder of their compensation would risk breaching the requirements of Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the property rights of individuals from arbitrary action by the State, by upsetting the fair balance between the interests of the individual and those of the community.

  If the Bill is passed in its present form, deliberate infection will become an offence against the Animal Health Act 1981 (as amended) and deliberate infection could be relevant for the purposes of carrying out the disease risk assessment and to the decision on how much compensation should be paid within the 75 per cent-100 per cent range.

  However, it is extremely unlikely that the disease risk assessment conducted on the day of slaughter would provide a level of evidence of deliberate infection sufficient to establish that this offence had occurred. It is therefore not intended to include this in the list of items to be assessed, but of course other items under the general heading of "biosecurity" will be on that list.

  If an owner of an animal of a species susceptible to FMD deliberately infects it to prompt the minister to slaughter it, and so triggers the obligation for the minister to pay them compensation, there remains the possibility of a prosecution under the Theft Act for the offence of obtaining by deception. There are also other offences for which charges could be brought. However, in all of these cases, it has been very difficult to obtain the necessary proof for any of these offences and none of the provisions under which charges might be brought was ever intended to deal with conduct of this sort.

  The maximum penalty for the new offence of deliberate infection would be imprisonment for up to two years and/or an unlimited fine in the case of the Crown Court or imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine of up to the statutory maximum (currently £5,000) in the case of the Magistrates' Court.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 November 2001