RSPCA may step back from prosecuting welfare cases *H&H Plus*

  • The charity, which has brought private prosecutions since the 19th century, has announced some changes as part of a new 10-year strategy. H&H finds out more

    THE RSPCA may step back from pursuing prosecutions for animal welfare violations.

    The charity has pledged to “review [its] role as a prosecutor” as part of its newly announced 10-year strategy.

    This move would potentially involve transferring the responsibility to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the independent body that prosecutes criminal cases investigated by police and other investigative organisations in England and Wales.

    The 2021 to 2030 strategy states that the charity “recognise this will be a historic change” given the RSPCA has been the primary prosecuting body for animal welfare in those countries since 1824, but the “world has changed a great deal”.

    “Such a change will need to be carefully considered and planned and we will only take this move forward if we are satisfied the CPS and other Government agencies have the necessary resources to prosecute cases and will do so to the same high standards we have set,” states the strategy.

    “We believe the time is right to explore moving away from the ‘end-to-end’ role the RSPCA provides by investigating and prosecuting animal welfare offences, and look towards separating these responsibilities.

    “This would mirror the arrangements on animal welfare in other jurisdictions such as Scotland and Ireland, and would enable the RSPCA to concentrate on its investigatory role, transferring investigation files to the CPS to make decisions on prosecutions.

    “It would enable us as a charity to concentrate on rescuing and caring for animals in need and advocating for animals everywhere, but we will reserve the right to prosecute in an individual serious case if Government agencies will not.”

    The decision comes five years after the 2016 Animal Welfare Act review, which recommended the RSPCA step back as the lead prosecutor in animal welfare cases.

    Jeremy Cooper, RSPCA chief executive at the time, responded by saying the suggestion “flies in the face of the majority of evidence” put before the committee.

    An RSPCA spokesman told H&H the decision comes as “a lot has changed” since then and the charity and country are in “a very different place to 2016”.

    The spokesman added the charity does not know the timescale, but expects it will take “a number of years”.

    Discussions have started with Defra and the CPS, and a change in legislation is required for the RSPCA to pass evidence to the latter.

    “It’s important to emphasise that we will continue to carry out our key investigation role, looking into allegations of abuse and neglect and, where there is enough evidence and it is in the public interest, we will pass those cases to the CPS,” said the spokesman, adding the charity wants to be satisfied on several areas before handing over responsibility.

    “If we feel that animals are not getting the justice they deserve, we reserve the right to bring a private prosecution in future, which is the right of every private individual and organisation in England and Wales.”

    Countryside Alliance CEO Tim Bonner said: “I am quite certain that had the Alliance not taken the stand it did to challenge the agenda of the RSPCA, these changes would not have happened, and I am proud that we did. It was the Alliance and its members who exposed the agenda of those who sought to use the RSPCA as a political tool.

    “And I am pleased that whilst we may still disagree on some issues, not least the RSPCA’s continuing obsession with private prosecutions, that we can now work together on campaigns that actually improve the welfare of animals.”

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