Examination of Witnesses (Questions 860-879)|
13 OCTOBER 2004
Q860 Chairman: Right. Mr Vine?
Mr Vine: I might make a suggestion
that you ask Ms Kasica next because she actually founded it and
I help with it, dealing with people, people phone in, they need
help, they need
Q861 Chairman: So you are part of the
Mr Vine: I am part of the organisation.
Q862 Chairman: Right, well, now we have
found the fount of all knowledge.
Ms Kasica: I founded the organisation
when I was prosecuted back in 1989. I found there was no help
anywhere. Solicitors I went to had no clue how to deal with an
RSPCA investigation and prosecution. I saw in the Farmers'
Weekly that another farmer had been prosecuted in similar
circumstances. I tried to contact him and in the end rang the
magazine, spoke to a journalist, who said, "Oh, you want
to start a self-help group." I did not but he wrote an article
to that effect and calls came in literally from Southampton to
Q863 Chairman: And how long have you
been helping each other?
Ms Kasica: Since 1990.
Q864 Chairman: Since 1990. Right, now
we have got an idea of your backgrounds and where you are coming
from, the role of the RSPCA in prosecution modeand I am
not going to ask you the standard question we started with because
I think your focus is very much on the prosecution side of the
Bill and you would not be here if you did not have reservations
about those aspectsthe Bill does appear to bestow upon
the RSCPA a special status. Perhaps you might like to just comment
by way of opening about the role that you perceive that the RSPCA
might undertake in the context of this particular measure and
the reservations you might have. Obviously all of you I guess
must have had some experience in terms of prosecutory activity
by the RSPCA and I think the Committee might find it helpful to
know the type of problems that you come up against that you might
wish to alert us to. Ms Kasica, shall we start with you. Obviously
we cannot on every question have everybody speaking so a little
bit of self-discipline would be helpful.
Ms Kasica: Do you want me to stick
to my specific case or do you want me to tell you about the whole
range of cases from people who just ring us with a question, a
query, a worry, right through the line to the people who commit
Q865 Chairman: We are not in the role
of an "agony aunt" for those who have been subject to
prosecutory activity but I think what we are looking for are some
general points which arise from your various experiences with
the RSPCA. You have had some problems. They do have a special
role in terms of prosecutions of animal welfare and if you have
some general reservations that you wish to illustrate by way of
actions that have occurred to those along the table or others
who have been in touch with you, fine. I think the only thing
that I would caution you on is please stick to the facts of the
matter. Normally on these occasions when people have differing
views, we have the benefit of the other side sitting alongside
to publicly rebut whatever is said. I have no doubt that the RSPCA
will in their usual way be taking very careful note of what is
being put forward and I would just for the record say that they
are coming back to see us tomorrow morning to deal with some of
the issues that have come up so far in our proceedings so if you
would care to reflect upon those points in framing any of your
replies. Right, fire away.
Ms Kasica: Our worry is that you
are going to empower an organisation
Q866 Chairman: May I say we are not.
The Government have put forward the draft Bill and they may.
Ms Kasica: may empower
an organisation which is often campaigning politically to end
the very activities that they are going to be investigating in
their prosecutarial role. That is somewhat biased from the very
beginning. How can they be non-judgmental? How can they go in
from ground level and do this? If you then go on to look at a
typical prosecution where the RSPCA starts an investigation, seizes
animals (often unlawfully and often in very strange circumstances)
you have the flow very much from the figures supplied to you of
people who find they have signed their animals away when they
did not even know what they were signing. They swear that they
thought they were just signing them over for a couple of weeks
respite care. You go on and on with this and then we have supplied
you with some figures which should be in front of you. We only
obtained these figures in the past couple of days. They flow very
much from the figures supplied to you by Jackie Ballard. Yes,
she is right, 96% of their prosecutions are successfuluntil
they get to appeal. Consider this: the number of defendants who
appeal magistrates' convictions is more than 26 times greater
in RSPCA prosecutions than those progressed by the CPS and the
number of successful appeals at crown court is almost three times
greater in RSPCA prosecutions than those progressed by the CPS.
Surely there is something wrong when you see such a vast discrepancy
in those figures.
Q867 Chairman: Mr Cairns, you are the
lawyer and you have watched the RSPCA as a prosecuting body and
you have heard what Ms Kasica has had to say. Give us your take
Mr Cairns: If I give you some
early examples. The practical position in the first instance is
the defendants do not know where to go or how to get legal advice.
A very common story is that people come to me and say they have
been to see a solicitor and they have simply been told to plead
guilty. These cases are quite difficult, they are quite complex.
What happens is that defendants are quite often questioned by
RSPCA inspectors before there has been any form of disclosure,
they are interviewed in their home addresses or in the street.
It is very difficult for those individuals to know exactly what
the medical position is. In practical terms what happens with
these cases is that they can take up to four to six months before
the real case papers are served on defendants, and I come back
to clause 11(3) so far as that would apply in practical proceedings.
These cases can take up to 12 months to come to a final hearing
and in contested cases the typical shape of a case now is lasting
anywhere from four to ten days. It is being heard in a magistrates'
court with a number of expert witnesses and typically these cases
are now being assigned to district judges. The majority of district
judges seem to have a good grasp and handle on the facts and issues
before them and they are making what I would say are reasonably
Q868 Chairman: Can I just ask Joan Jackson
are you here because you have been the subject of prosecution?
Ms Jackson: Yes.
Q869 Chairman: What happened to you?
Ms Jackson: Firstly, can I just
say thank you to everybody who answered our submission. We sent
a submission to everybody on the Committee here, so thank you
for replying. Myself and my husband have a specialist reptile
and fish shop in Doncaster and we were visited by the RSPCA in
February 2003 and, like Mr Cairns said, it took a long time for
our case to come to court. It was six months before the papers
were served and then it took 14 months before it came into court
for a four-day hearing which was then adjourned because only the
prosecution evidence was heard and after two weeks of the judge
deliberating the charges were then dropped and the case was dismissed.
During that time we found life very, very difficult. We did not
know how to go about it at first but we had heard who to contact
and we progressed from there with the help of Mr Cairns and Mr
Newman. The powers that the RSPCA already have are quite worrying
but to give them any more in the Animal Welfare Bill we think
it is quite frightening from our point of view because they appear
to be accountable to no-one. They seem to have the power to come
in and they do not need to have a reason. The reason they gave
us on the day as different to the reason they gave in court. It
just begs the question what was the reason for coming in? Was
there a reason? From the investigation that we made through the
Data Protection Act there was no reason. So we find it very, very
worrying. We also think that as far as seizures go the seizure
itself was debatable. They called the Police we were told so that
the Police could seize the animals because under the law only
they can seize animals but the Police came only under a breach
of the peace request. We have letters from South Yorkshire Police
saying they did not seize the animals. Our animals were taken,
they died in their care, not in our care. They were fine when
they left us. They were taken as a precautionary measure. The
animals died yet we were accused of neglect and cruelty for which
we were prosecuted. We find that very, very worrying. It happened
to us, it will happen to others, and it has happened to others.
Q870 Paddy Tipping: I would just like
to clarify what you think the Bill says about the RSPCA. I cannot
see the RSPCA mentioned at all in the Bill. Presumably you are
concerned that they might be appointed as inspectors by a local
Mr Vine: We know for a fact that
the RSPCA has been approaching local councils and county councils
and so on and saying, "Can we have meetings to see how we
can enforce these new powers." We know that.
Ms Kasica: Powers they have been
granted as prosecutors under the 2000 amendment. Remember they
have been saying for a long time they want no more powers, they
do not want to be prosecutors and yet we suddenly find that they
have been negotiating with Defra to obtain those powers. Assuming
those powers are going to be transported into this Act which I
understand they will be
Q871 Paddy Tipping: Can I just stop you
there. Why do you say you understand they will be?
Ms Kasica: From the wording of
the proposed Act.
Q872 Paddy Tipping: Perhaps Mr Cairns
can help you. Just draw my attention to where it says that these
powers are going to be imported across to the RSPCA.
Mr Cairns: For my part I make
no assumption it is going to be the RSPCA who will fulfil the
full role of prosecution but in practical terms it is difficult
to envisage any other organisation who on a national scale could
actually take it on. I accept there could be restrictions placed
on the RSPCA in certain areas.
Q873 Paddy Tipping: Okay. Clearly all
of you have had contact with the RSPCA and have a view, if I can
put it like that, on the RSPCA. Are you saying to us as a Committee
you would not want the RSPCA validated as inspectors?
Ms Kasica: Very much so, unless
there are strict controls and proper safeguards so that where
an investigator or prosecutor breaches someone's human rights
or destroys animals when they should not there should be some
very severe comeback and there should be a requirement that the
case is dropped. Furthermore it should be that prosecutor who
would be prosecuted.
Q874 Paddy Tipping: Okay. I think Mr
Cairns has just told us that the RSPCA might be in the frame as
a national body to do this. You have told us very strongly that
you do not want them to do so.
Ms Kasica: No.
Q875 Paddy Tipping: Just spell out for
us who you think should. You are all involved with animal welfare,
you all care about animals. Just sketch out for us who should
be the inspectors.
Mr Vine: Just now you said that
we have all obviously had contact with the RSPCA. I have never
had any problem with the RSPCA except for the fact that I do not
like the way they operate and take the law into their own hands.
Paddy Tipping: That is a fairly definitive
view. Let's go forward. You are involved with animals. Just spell
out for me what you would envisage under the Act as inspectors?
What kind of people?
Q876 Chairman: Mr Day, you can add your
two pennyworth after Mr Vine has finished.
Mr Vine: Properly qualified and
Q877 Paddy Tipping: Help me with that.
That is a big catch-all, is it not?
Ms Kasica: Defra, local animal
Q878 Chairman: One at a time because
Mr Day wants to get his bit in as well. You finish, Mr Vine.
Mr Vine: The RSPCA certainly know
their law and how to walk round it but they themselves have been
approaching all different animal groups and saying, "We do
not have the expertise in your animals. We need help. Will you
collaborate with us?" They admit themselves that they do
not have the knowledge of the animals so how can they be inspectors?
Q879 Paddy Tipping: Help us with where
we are at. You were saying Defra, local authorities
Ms Kasica: Local authorities,
animal health organisations.