Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
Last week the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, announced that the Government intends to bring forward legislation to increase the maximum sentence for serious acts of animal abuse from 6 months to 5 years. The number of cases that might attract such a sentence are small, but there are some where abuse is so sustained and appalling that a longer sentence would undoubtedly be justified. The Countryside Alliance will, therefore, give its full support to this proposal.
As animal welfare legislation is being discussed we will also remind the Government, and all politicians engaged in the debate, of the continuing anomaly of privatised criminal prosecution of animal welfare legislation by the RSPCA.
Last year the EFRA Committee reported on animal welfare legislation and came up with clear recommendations on the prosecution of welfare offences. Its Chairman, Neil Parish, said: “The RSPCA does important work investigating animal welfare cases. And I would like to see its dedicated and professional staff continue that vital work. The Committee is not convinced, however, that the RSPCA is in a better position than the Crown Prosecution Service when it comes to prosecuting animal welfare cases. It should step back from making prosecutions itself, continuing instead to work closely with the police and prosecution service to protect the welfare of animals.”
Unsurprisingly, however, the RSPCA refused to accept the recommendation of the cross-party Committee. Instead its council indulged in another orgy of internal bloodletting and sacked its Chief Executive, Jeremy Cooper, for daring to apologise for the way it had carried out some prosecutions in the past. It had taken the council 2 years to appoint Mr Cooper after the departure of the controversial Gavin Grant in 2014, but he lasted little more than a year in the job.
The RSPCA has campaigned for longer sentences for the worst animal abusers and we support that, but with increased sentences must come the normalisation of prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act and an end to privatised prosecutions. Such cases are too serious to be dealt with by a private prosecutor who is also involved in investigating the offence, especially one governed by a council as extreme and volatile as the RSPCA’s.
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