06 February 2014
The Crown Prosecution Service acknowledge that on request they will review a decision to prosecute taken by the RSPCA.
An article in the Times last week by the Investigations Editor Dominic Kennedy demonstrates that the CPS now acknowledge that on request they will review a decision to prosecute taken by the RSPCA. The DPP always had the right to take over a private prosecution and discontinue those proceedings if he believed it to be in the public interest so to do. The DPP is now the CPS. The power has been exercised but rarely. The RSPCA are a private prosecutor and thus, their decisions to prosecute are ultimately under the sway of the CPS.
Dominic Kennedy discovered that a Miss Nadian of Hull was being prosecuted by the RSPCA for cruelty (causing unnecessary suffering contrary to section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006) to her cats. She asked the CPS to determine whether the prosecution was in the public interest. The CPS initially said that they had no power to intervene. But the Attorney General recently informed MPs in Parliament that the DPP would review such Prosecutions on request. When apprised of this the CPS changed their mind and called for the papers from the RSPCA in order to carry out a review.
At this point, I declare an interest. I am and have been for many years a Prosecutor for the RSPCA. What follows are matters that occur to me. I have not asked the RSPCA what they will say to this development.
If as the article states there are over 4000 RSPCA prosecutions every year it is going to take a huge amount of CPS resources to vet every RSPCA case.
Secondly, the CPS never prosecute animal welfare cases. They are often quite complex and rely in part at least on expert veterinary evidence. The RSPCA have a very experienced Prosecutions Department and a network of private solicitors also experienced in veterinary evidence and welfare issues. How will the CPS be able to judge the strength or otherwise of the expert evidence with no experience in that field? If they set up a Department charged with vetting the RSPCA’s decisions to prosecute will this not be a massive and unnecessary duplication of effort. The Court is there to decide the issues and will say if they think the prosecution should not have been brought. What if the CPS say that they think it is not in the public interest to prosecute a case and the RSPCA are aggrieved by that decision will there not have to be a High Court Judicial Review hearing to decide that point. Surely not.
The real problem the CPS will face is ‘by what criteria will they decide whether or not a prosecution is in the public interest?’. The RSPCA are a Charity established by Royal Charter and are charged with the promotion of the welfare of animals. They receive donations from thousands of members of the public who want to see animal cruelty prosecuted. The Animal Welfare Act itself begins with the words ‘an Act to make provision about animal welfare and connected purposes’ and it creates all manner of offences of causing suffering, mutilation, tail docking, animal fighting, failing to meet the needs of an animal etc. There are regulations drawn up by Defra identifying the way in which particular animals, horses, dogs, chickens, cattle etc should be raised and treated. The Act stipulates that those regulations should promote the welfare of animals. Are the CPS really in a position with their budget cuts and overstretched staff to gainsay a decision taken by the RSPCA in an area where they are expert, where their Inspectors know what has happened on the ground and where they know which are the most respected experts and have access to them. Of course, the RSPCA apply the usual criteria for prosecuting. Whatever its detractors in the Hunting lobby may say the public, especially the animal loving public and beyond, do have confidence that the Inspectorate is honest and that the experts chosen are the best available. So what is the need for duplication? Mr Kennedy quotes Simon Hart MP, who complains that RSPCA prosecutions are not subject to the checks and balances of other prosecuting authorities. One may ask to what checks and balances are the CPS subject other than the normal scrutiny of the Court process? With cuts across the board in legal aid and prosecution budgets, is the need to vet RSPCA decisions to prosecute really a priority?