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

Memorandum submitted by the Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others Experiencing Difficulties with the RSPCA

  1.  There are no safeguards in this Bill that will protect people's civil and legal rights.

  2.  There are no protections put in place to ensure that prosecutors who breach people's civil and legal rights will be penalised, and that evidence so obtained will be automatically excluded.

  3.  The result of this legislation will be to reduce the number of people prepared to keep animals of any kind because they have privacy concerns and because they are not prepared to put themselves at risk of attracting the attention of the RSPCA whose unlawful activities are well documented, and who are feared by many animal keepers

  4.  If there had been any obvious failure in the previous legislation, it would have been corrected very quickly. The RSPCA political campaigns machinery would have swung into action demanding immediate change.

  5.  The only acceptable reason to change existing animal welfare laws that are known and understood by the vast majority of the British public would be if there was any real evidence that those laws were ineffective. There is none. The only claims have been from organisations such as the RSPCA whose prosecutions are tainted by their political campaigns.

  6.  One only has to look at attempts by various bodies to produce guidelines for their members in relation to the powers that have been granted to the RSPCA with the award of Prosecutor Status under the 2000 Amendment to the 1911 Act to see that it is impossible to provide a set of simple guidelines. It will be equally impossible to do so for this proposed legislation.

  7.  The result will be confusion and an animal keeping public who, instead of supporting animal welfare in general, will become increasingly isolated and opposed to its implementation.

  8.  The very fact that the RSPCA are campaigning politically makes them unsuitable for the position of prosecutors. The Code for Crown Prosecutors s 2.2 requires prosecutors to be free from political bias. This means that every prosecution launched by the RSPCA will be open to challenge on the basis that it was politically motivated.

  9.  Each successful prosecution provides free advertising for the RSPCA. They have a vested interest in obtaining successful prosecutions.

  10.  Prosecution and investigation must be split. The right to prosecute was taken away from the police and given to the Crown Prosecution Service on the grounds that having been directly involved in the investigation the police would have too great an interest in obtaining a successful prosecution.

  11.  How much more applicable is this concern when applied to the RSPCA who are often campaigning to have the very activities of the people they are investigating made illegal?

  12.  Bearing in mind that animal welfare issues often attract "people with a mission" who are the very opposite of objective and impartial, we consider the implementation of proper protections to be paramount before any additional regulating legislation is considered.

  13.  There is nothing special in legal terms about this legislation. Why can't the CPS deal with it? They deal with much more complex matters. Drink driving legislation involves back calculations of alcohol levels, and incorporates the problem that the police explanations to the defendant at each stage must be correct.

  14.  This appears to be setting up a biased prosecution service in that only those who have prosecuted under the 1911 Act can apply for contracts.

  15.  The legislation should include a list of what is not commercial. Otherwise there is a danger a court will include it.

  16.  S 1(10)(a)(iii) will make a parent or guardian criminally responsible for their child's actions if that child is under 16. I doubt if most parents would expect to go to jail if their youngster went on a shoplifting spree, or painted graffiti. Indeed, it begs the question of how a parent is to keep a child under total control 24/7.

  17.  There are far too many grey areas. What is reasonable to the general public may not be reasonable to organisations campaigning for Animal Rights agendas, such as the RSPCA.

  18.  S 6 Without further discussion, regulations can be imposed and enforced covering a wide range of situations, including farming, market, transport, slaughter, training, type of accommodation, materials used in accommodation, facilities provided, and the animals diets. Worse, licensing and registration can be imposed on ministerial whim, as can the prohibition of the keeping of specified kinds of animals. And for all of this, there is the provision that fees or charges can be made. Animal keepers should be very wary of the financial implications of this.

  19.  The imposition of a 51 week sentence in order to prevent the option of a jury trial is disgraceful when prosecutions of this type have the potential to destroy the defendant's life, irrespective of whether they are found guilty or not.

  20.  S 7 Whose codes of practice are going to be imposed? Those of knowledgeable keepers, or those which ignore the real needs of the animal but are supported by the politically motivated RSPCA? If the Secretary of State need only consult "such persons as he sees fit", then we have a serious problem.

  21.  S 11 To say that an animal can be taken by the authorities if it is likely to suffer if its circumstances do not change means that putting a small animal in suitably sized living accommodation where it will feel safe and secure will put the owner at risk because the animal would suffer if it was not moved to larger accommodation as it grows. So the animal must suffer the psychological stress of unsuitable accommodation in order to avoid the potential of suffering.

  22.  The removal of the need for a vet to certify the removal of an animal means that unqualified "inspectors" and police officers are going to make judgements when they may have no knowledge of the general needs of the type of animal concerned, or the specific needs of the particular animal.

  23.  Question: Is legal aid going to cover these applications to the courts for extensions of time to keep the animal, or for the return of the animal? How can an inspector be given the right to seize an animal and then keep it on the owner's premises? (S 12) This is a breach of the owner's human rights of privacy, to own property.

  24.  Explanatory notes 53. The anticipation that it will be rare to need to exercise the powers to take possession of and retain an animal before the arrival of a vet is ludicrous. If this provision is to remain, there must be a protecting provision that nullifies the authority and the consequences if it can be shown that any reasonable inspector would not have so acted.

  25.  Explanatory notes 55. Why should the power extend to other animals beyond those which are believed to be currently suffering? Taking a whole herd of cattle into custody because one or two are sub-standard puts an incredible burden of cost onto the defendant and could be seen as an attempt to force him to plead guilty or agree to the giving up of the animals under duress in an attempt to cut the final costs.

  26.  S 12 appears to give the right to recover costs whether or not the owner is found guilty.

  27.  S 13 gives an inspector or constable the right to kill an animal without the presence of a vet if he believes it is impracticable to wait for a vet.

  28.  S 14 gives power of entry to search for animals reasonably believed to be on the premises, suffering, or likely to suffer if their circumstances do not change. He may use reasonable force, even without a warrant if he believes entry is required before it can be obtained and executed, (although an inspector may only do so if accompanied by a constable between 11.00 pm and 5.00 am) Theoretically this will not apply to a private dwelling, but we shall undoubtedly see a series of cases which will blur the definitions of commercial and private.

  29.  The human rights implications of the above three sections alone are outrageous.

  30.  S 16(2)(e) provides for the disposal of an animal by the prosecutor other than by way of sale. There appear to be no safeguards to prevent the abuse of this facility or the "disposal" of animals to friends or business acquaintances of the prosecutor.

  31.  Bearing in mind that subsection (4) states that the protection provided by subsection (3), the right of the owner to be heard by the court, does not apply if the court is satisfied that it is not reasonably practicable to communicate with the owner, there is again great potential for abuse of the provisions of the Act by a determined prosecutor.

  32.  S 16(6) makes it an offence to obstruct a prosecutor or a person authorised by him in the exercise of the powers conferred by an order under subsection (1). Combining subsection (6) with subsection (7) which provides that an order made under subsection (1) ceases to have effect if the case is dropped or ended in some way, but protects anything done before the order ceases to have effect, it is clear that there is danger of a determined prosecutor who wishes to do maximum damage to the defendant waiting until animals have been disposed of before dropping a weak case.

  33.  Explanatory note 89 and 90. There seems to be no protecting provision to ensure that costs incurred by the prosecutor are reasonable.

  34.  S 19(2)(a) permits the prosecutor or anyone authorised by him to enter the premises for the purpose of exercising the powers conferred by the order to tag or mark an animal. This is effectively providing a power to enter and search with no proper protection against abuse.

  35.  What provisions are in place to prevent a prosecutor marking a valuable animal in some permanent or invasive way that destroys its value?

  36.  S 20(1) provides for reimbursement of prosecutors reasonable expenses incurred in the exercise of the powers conferred by the order.

  37.  Question: Why is there no protection given to the defendant found innocent. Why should he be expected to pay if the prosecutor has made a mistake? What is to prevent the RSPCA submitting their usual "gold plated" expenses?

  38.  It seems strange that under s 21 there is no power for sale of animals seized by a constable from a person who has been arrested for an offence under s 2(1)(g) or (h), where he suspects that the animals have been used in fighting. Is it that unlike the RSPCA, the police have no wish to make a profit?

  39.  Explanatory note 91. How can "others" be given the power to arrest?

  40.  S 22 changes the criteria for costs. Costs are now claimable from the arrested person, not the owner, as a civil debt. There is still no provision for an innocent person to not be responsible for costs incurred.

  41.  Question: Why is it that in relation to fighting animals the powers are still vested in the police? There is no let out for the police here. They are still going to be at the beck and call of the RSPCA.

  42.  Explanatory note 111. The result of preventing a disqualified person from having any further input with the care, transport etc. of animals means that it is effectively confiscating the business of a convicted person, or ensuring he will be driven to bankruptcy. It will make family life impossible and intolerable. This is draconian and inhumane.

  43.  Explanatory note 134. There is no right of appeal if the court orders destruction in the interests of the welfare of the animal. This is outrageous. We all know that one expert may disagree with another.

  44.  S 31 enables the destruction of an animal if the court is satisfied it constitutes a danger to public safety, or that it may be used for the commission of further such offences. This is carte blanche for the RSPCA to demand the deaths of dozens of innocent dogs simply because of their breed.

  45.  S 34. Is there going to be any legal aid available for people to use this section in applying for their disqualification period to end? The provision that the applicant can be ordered to pay all or part of the costs of the application s 34(3)(b) is draconian and designed to discourage such applications.

  46.  149 of the explanatory notes states that even if the application is successful, the applicant can have the costs awarded against him.

  47.  It is utterly wrong and a disgrace to any fair system of justice that people should be priced out of obtaining their rights and a fair hearing.

  48.  No doubt the general public will be thrilled to know that the RSPCA are being empowered by s 36 to inspect and copy any records held by a licence holder, and so will know exactly what animals they have bought and where they are likely to be found.

  49.  Explanatory notes 154 provides power to access his computer and copy its contents. This is a breach of the right to privacy.

  50.  Urgent Question: S 37 entitles an inspector to enter any premises on which he believes a licence holder whose activities have not been confined to a particular premises may be carrying on his activity. Why does it not exclude private dwellings as does s 38 for farm animals.

  51.  Explanatory note 156 states that no offence need be suspected, an inspection may be simply to check that the licence conditions are being complied with, and they may inspect where they believe a licensable activity is being carried out without a licence.

  52.  S 43 extends the time limits to three years for a prosecution to commence. The defendant is already put at a severe disadvantage by tardy prosecutors. How will anyone remember what happened three years ago? How will they obtain expert evidence?

  53.  It is outrageous to accept the word of the prosecutor for the date he claims to have discovered the offence. S 43(2).

  54.  S 45 provides the ultimate get out clause for misbehaviour by inspectors. It is virtually impossible to prove that someone's action was not done in "good faith" and will enable vindictive harassment of vulnerable people.

  55.  No RSPCA inspector should be given the power to stop and search vehicles. This should remain firmly in the hands of the police only. S 47.

  56.  S 54(2)(iii) provides that any undomesticated animal that is temporarily under the control of man comes under the Act could mean that any live caught rabbit, rat, etc could lead to a prosecution. If additional types of animal are added, any child collecting a few snails could become vulnerable.

  57.   Schedule 1

  58. It should be an absolute requirement that people purporting to exercise the powers in this act must provide proof of identity and outline the purpose for which the powers exist. No ordinary person is going to realise they should ask for this.

  59.  There appear to be no safeguards to prevent the person exercising this power from taking inappropriate people or equipment onto the premises.

  60.  The power to require assistance goes over and above that which is granted to the police. It is effectively enslaving animal keepers and forcing them to take actions they may genuinely believe to be detrimental to their animal's interests. It could force someone who practises homeopathic or other alternative treatments to enable that treatment regime to be destroyed by the application of medicines to which their animal might already have proved allergic.

  9.  It should be an absolute requirement that a record of what has been seized is provided or left on the premises. There should not be a need for the affected persons to request it.

  61.  How can the Bill be a result of the public consultation when the majority of interested parties who took part did not want any powers given to the RSPCA?

  62.  It is claimed that the Act is compliant with Human Rights requirements provided that the "powers are exercised in a proportionate manner" 221. The track record of the courts under s 78 of PACE in permitting unlawfully obtained evidence is not good and gives great cause for concern that there will be many injustices perpetrated by the RSPCA under this legislation.

  63.   Purpose and Intended Effect of Measure

  64.  Ss 4-8. Repeated requests have been made to the RSPCA for clarification of their prosecution figures. They have declined to supply these details.

  65.   Benefits

  66.  The claim in s 32 is that the legislation will be clearer and simpler, making compliance easier. The way the Bill is worded makes this a nonsense.

  67.   Costs

  68.  S 37 will people who have accepted a caution be put on the proposed database of offenders?

  69.  A general observation on the imposition of licences is that unless the licence can be shown to address a clear welfare issue, it is merely another drain on the resources of a business and another bit of red tape designed to create offences purely as a result of accidental breach of the licensing requirements themselves.

  70.  The increased costs will destroy many small businesses and lead to homeless animals.

  71.  How does this further the cause of animal welfare?

  72.   Age to purchase pets

  73.  Young people are finding that more and more activities are denied to them simply because the age limits are being arbitrarily raised. Where are the figures that show youngsters have been consistently proved to be incapable of being responsible for purchased animals? How are these young people to cope when they turn 16-18 and find themselves suddenly thrust into the world of adulthood with all of its liabilities and responsibilities when they have had no experience and no chance of preparing in incremental steps as they were under previous legislation?

  74.   Tethering

  75.  This seems to be aimed at travelling people and will ensure they are no longer able to keep animals as they have been traditionally kept by them for generations.

  76.   Dog Tracks

  77.  How can regulation by NGRC be imposed on those tracks that have chosen not to be members of this organisation? The costs are going to endanger the existence of many smaller tracks.

25 August 2004

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