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

Further supplementary memorandum submitted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

  The Committee has asked us to comment on an assertion made by the Self Help Group for Farmers etc (SHG) that, whilst the RSPCA may have a 96.6% conviction rate in its prosecutions compared with 98% for the CPS, the number of defendants who appeal convictions in the magistrates' court is 26 times greater for RSPCA prosecutions than for CPS prosecutions and that the number of successful appeals is two times greater in RSPCA cases than CPS cases.

  SHG's figures are seriously flawed for reasons, which we explain below. Table 1 shows the number of defendants that appealed against RSPCA convictions for the past 2½ years. In 2002 this was just under 5% of all defendants convicted, 3.3% in 2003 and 5.4% to June this year. Of these appeals, only five defendants during this 30 month period (5.1% of all defendants appealing) were successful (ie the conviction was quashed). This is 0.2% of all defendants convicted during the period. The appeals of 38% of all defendants appealing were dismissed or withdrawn. The remaining appeals were upheld in relation to sentence but the convictions still stand. The courts, not the RSPCA, decide the sentencing.

  SHG say that in 2003 54.84% of appeals against conviction in RSPCA cases resulted in acquittal. This claim is both wrong and dishonest. In fact, the percentage of successful appeals against conviction in that year ie one compared with total number of appeals ie 31, is 3.2% and not 54.84% as claimed by SHG. The reason for the high SHG figure is that they included in their figures those cases in which the appellant was not acquitted but did succeed in having his/her sentence varied. This is dishonest for two reasons. First, a defendant whose sentence is varied on appeal has clearly not been acquitted. Second, a prosecutor is not allowed to address the court on the issue of sentence. It is a matter decided purely by the magistrates having heard representations from the defendant. Therefore, a reduction in sentence cannot in any way reflect upon the propriety of bringing a prosecution in the first place or its conduct.

  The RSPCA does not believe that SHG have made a fair comparison of RSPCA appeals with CPS appeals. SHG claim that the RSPCA has an appeal rate of 26.72%. This figure is based on the number of defendants who appealed in 2003 as a percentage of the number of defendants who pleaded not guilty but were nevertheless convicted. The correct comparison would be of the total number of appeals compared with all defendants convicted which gives a percentage of 3.3% in 2003. The 1% figure which SHG quote for appeals against CPS prosecutions appears to have been calculated on the correct basis, although it is not an accurate comparison for other reasons. It is taken from Lord Justice Auld's "Review of the Criminal Courts of England and Wales" which was published in 2001 and uses 1999 and 2000 figures. It relates to all magistrates' court cases and not just those brought by the CPS. It appears to be based on the number of defendants who appealed in 2000 as a percentage of the number of defendants convicted in that year. On this basis SHG should have claimed that the number of appeals in RSPCA cases was 3.3 times as great as appeals in CPS cases (not 26 times as great).

  To a large extent, the number of defendants who appeal against conviction is irrelevant. The important figure is the number of defendants who successfully appeal ie are acquitted. This figure, as given above, is only five in the past 30 months.

  The RSPCA only prosecutes in respect of animal-related crime. The CPS prosecutes in respect of the whole range of criminal offences. Many of these are much more straightforward to prove (such as speeding or failure to wear a seatbelt) and do not carry the stigma of offences against animals and so are not as hotly contested. Statistically valid comparisons can be made only by comparing RSPCA conviction rates with CPS (and other prosecuting bodies) conviction rates for animal-related crimes.

  Animal-related offences are not "recordable offences" and so the police and CPS are not obliged to, and do not, keep any records of their numbers. We are aware of a very rough police estimate that there are fewer than 50 animal-related CPS prosecutions per year. If correct, this would mean that fewer than 0.0036% of CPS cases relate to animals. We do not believe sound conclusions about animal-related cases can be drawn from figures which relate to all 1.5 million CPS cases per year.

  Finally, we would like to comment on SHG's claim that the CPS has a 98% conviction rate in the magistrates' court compared with 96.6% for the RSPCA. The 98% figure comes from the CPS's annual report for the period from April 2003-March 2004, so it is not a direct comparison with RSPCA figures, which relate to the 2003 calendar year. More importantly, the 98% figure compares all CPS cases, which go to trial with the number of those cases, which result in a conviction. If one compares all CPS cases (and not just those that go to a full trial) with those cases which result in a conviction, the figure is 78.9%.

  a Table showing number of defendants convicted and appeals upheld in RSPCA prosecutions 2002-04 (June)
YearNumber of Defendants Convicted Number of Defendants AppealingAppeals
(or Withdrawn) IE, Convictions Still Standing
Upheld in Part IE, Convictions
Still Standing
but Original Sentence
Appeals Upheld IE, Convictions Quashed (% figure is % of appeals upheld of defendants convicted)
200291045 (4.9%) 14274 (0.4%)
200392831 (3.3%) 14161 (0.1%)
406 22 (5.4%)913 0
October 2004

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