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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 900-912)

MS ANNE KASICA, MR ERNEST VINE, MR DAVID ARTHUR, MS JOAN JACKSON, MR CHRISTOPHER DAY AND MR JONATHAN CAIRNS

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 prosecuting you?

  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 the law?

  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 not?

  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 that point.

  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 us—a number of complaints—and 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 final question.

  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.





 
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