Examination of Witnesses (Questions 900-912)|
13 OCTOBER 2004
Q900 Alan Simpson: Let me try and take
the RSPCA out of this for a moment. Who do you think should be
Mr Vine: The CPS.
Ms Kasica: The Police/CPS or Defra/CPS
or local authority/CPS. There should always be a second assessment
of the facts. I think this is the fault that has led to the huge
discrepancies in the appeals figures. Originally the right to
prosecute was taken from the Police because it was believed that
they would have too great an interest in obtaining a successful
prosecution having been involved in the initial investigation.
You are talking about a campaigning body who wants to end particular
activities and then you are allowing that campaigning body to
run riot. You see where I am going?
Q901 Alan Simpson: Sure, I just wanted
to take that part out for a moment and just follow this one through.
Whoever you then give the rights of prosecution to, would you
still have the same objections to unrestricted right of access?
Ms Kasica: Yes, very much so.
Q902 Alan Simpson: Can you explain to
the Committee why you feel that in terms of animal welfare you
should have rights that do not apply in other aspects of criminal
law? The Police currently have powers to enter someone's premises
where they have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence
is being committed.
Mr Vine: That is the Police and
they are answerable to other bodies.
Q903 Alan Simpson: Sure, but what I am
saying to you is I first of all asked you to define who you would
want to be the body that was prosecuting you and then you have
to say okay and on what basis do you secure the evidence that
you would need for a successful prosecution. In other aspects
of criminal law it is quite straightforward, the Police have unrestricted
rights of entry where they have reasonable grounds to believe
that an offence has been committed, so why should you be any different?
Ms Kasica: Because in today's
society the modern witch-hunt has become the suspicion of animal
neglect and animal abuse. Very much along the lines of child abuse
where you have seen the scandals wherein the professionals do
not listen, this is happening in animal cases.
Q904 Alan Simpson: If we were doing this
in terms of child care, if we were doing it in terms of other
criminal activity, the response to that answer would be to say
really you are wanting the law to give the criminal notice of
your intention to turn up to look for the evidence that you have
just told them you are going to be coming to look for and you
have given them the time to hide. Does that not make an ass of
Ms Kasica: No, because parts of
this Bill are creating, for instance, licences and breach of licence
conditions in itself will be a crime which has no effect on the
animal welfare issues. The animal may well be in perfect condition,
better kept than by anybody who has a licence, and yet you will
have powers of entry to anywhere that you think those licence
conditions may be breached.
Q905 Alan Simpson: Or the animal could
be conveniently lost by the time the Police turn up.
Ms Kasica: That goes the same
for any situation anywhere.
Q906 Alan Simpson: No, the issue that
I am trying to raise is that if you give notice in any other aspect
of the law you give the person committing the offence the opportunity
to hide or lose the evidence.
Ms Kasica: I think the problem
is that in these cases you very often are talking about people's
homes, their family life, their pets are part of their family.
You are then going to raid their premises on a minor issue. I
cannot see where you are coming from, I am sorry, we need a better
definition of the question.
Q907 Mr Wiggin: What I think my colleague
is saying is that if you are breaking the law on animal welfare
and it is not going to be the RSPCA, it is going to be the local
authority, then they ought to have unfettered access, should they
Ms Kasica: Only if there are proper
and adequate controls.
Mr Wiggin: Yes, but if it was the local
authority and the Police
Q908 Chairman: The main message that
is coming through is whoever prosecutes it should be on the basis
of a well-founded and proper and logical approach. Mr Day, you
have been anxious to come in.
Mr Day: I am possibly ignorant
of the law on this, forgive me if I am but I am a veterinary surgeon.
I understand that the Police would have to seek those powers in
certain instances in order to come in and gain access not from
the owner or the proprietor or whoever but from the appropriate
authority before they came in to seek their evidence. I do not
think the Police have the right to come and see my veterinary
records of clients' activities, for instance, without a search
warrant. I may be wrong but that is the attitude I take in client
confidentiality and unless they have gone through the proper channels
my clients' confidentiality is sacrosanct. Furthermore, if we
look in this Bill we have the concept of the possibility of animal
welfare problems in somebody's view inciting them to have unfettered
access. That would make me very frightened. If there is a very
genuine ground that animal welfare is being jeopardised then I
can see the point but through the proper channels, not at somebody's
whim who could then at 8 o'clock in the evening decide to just
pop in and have access because he knows the owners are not there
and do what he wishes.
Q909 Chairman: In fairness, you may not
have had a chance to study all the evidence that the Committee
has had. Just for the record, at the beginning one of the questions
that we originally asked the RSPCA was how do you go about the
question of investigating and then subsequently prosecuting and
they and others have made it clear that it is a whole myriad of
information that comes from members of the public who feed this
information in. In other words I think what you are concerned
about is are people going to go on fishing expeditions?
Mr Day: I am concerned about the
possibility of abuse of process.
Q910 Chairman: Ms Jackson wants to amplify
Ms Jackson: I must come in at
this point because when we were visited by the RSPCA they had
no reason to come in. They came in under one pretext; in court
they said something different. According to them they had had
a number of complaints against usa number of complaintsand
yet when we went through the Data Protection Act to investigate
the number of complaints to find out where they came from and
in what period of time there were none. My concern is that they
do come in perhaps without any particular reason but also they
do not seem to be as knowledgeable as they should be in the area
in which they are inspecting.
Chairman: Mr Wiggin is going to ask one
Q911 Mr Wiggin: What I was concerned
by was what you said earlier about the trends in prosecutions
so when there is a campaign of some sort that is then presumably
followed by a string of cases that go to prosecution. I am very
worried about a charitable organisation that needs to raise funds
using its prosecutory powers to emphasise or in some way enhance
its fundraising ability because they would, and it is not unfair,
and if they are doing a good job they should tell people about
it, however the cart must not come before the horse, if you see
what I mean. Is that what is going on because nobody else would
be able to tell us?
Ms Kasica: We can only tell you
that we see a trend. We do not have the figures for the entire
country. We had enough of a struggle to get the prosecution figures
that we asked for. It was only Charles Hendry, one of your colleagues,
who obtained them for one of his constituents who passed them
on to us.
Q912 Mr Wiggin: I have certainly noticed
in my constituency where there are a lot of poultry growers that
this campaign about the strength of chickens' legs comes up once
every three or four years and there are some pretty horrible pictures.
The poultry sector responds but that is ignored and the campaign
is run again. I just wondered if that is the sort of thing you
are seeing as well?
Ms Kasica: Yes we do.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
I think without doubt you have alerted us clearly to your concerns
about the way that prosecutions should be conducted under this
Bill. I have no doubt, as I said at the outset, that the RSPCA
will have heard what you have had to say and it may well be that
when they come before us for a brief session tomorrow they may
wish to comment on some of the points that you have made it. I
think it might be quite helpful to hear what they do have to say.
Can I thank you again for the contribution you have made and for
the written evidence you have sent us. Thank you very much.