According to the latest EFRACom report – Animal Welfare in England: Domestic Pets – the RSPCA should no longer have the power to prosecute in animal welfare cases.
In news that has since received a backlash from a number of animal welfare charities, as well as the British Veterinary Association, the committee said that the RSCPA’s right to prosecute was causing a ‘conflict of interest’ with its other work in investigating, campaigning, and fundraising.
While the law states that anyone may bring a private prosecution, the committee argued that no other charity or private organisation maintains the same prosecution role and cited rising numbers of cruelty complaints and cases of the RSCPA taking pets away from vulnerable people as evidence that the RPSCA deterrent was not working and that prosecution was best left to the CPS.
200 Years of Experience
Since the report was published, the RSPCA has responded stating it is not willing to give up on prosecuting cases of animal welfare abuse. Chief executive Jeremy Cooper cited the charity’s 200 years of experience and 92% prosecution success rate – higher than that of the CPS.
The RSPCA’s Head of Public Affairs, David Bowles, also pointed out that only 3% of the RSCPA’s overall budget is spent on legal fees, while numbers on the RSPCA website actually show a drop in cruelty complaint investigations from 159,831 in 2014 to 143,004 last year.
A number of other welfare charities have also come out in support of the RSPCA, including Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Dogs Trust, the Blue Cross, and Cats Protection, who all stated that they feared the change would lead to many cases of animal abuse going unprosecuted.
Most seem confused as to why this particular issue is being highlighted at all in a report that otherwise recommends some popular and positive changes, such as increasing animal welfare education, banning the third party sale of dogs, and increasing the maximum penalty for crimes against animals.
Passing the Buck?
One of the main concerns issued by many, and by vets in particular, is over who will take on the responsibility of animal welfare prosecutions if the role is taken away from the RSPCA.
“If you hand it over to the CPS – of course they will have other more important high-profile things,” said Bowles. “You’d expect those things to take priority over animal cases – my fear is that animals will go to the bottom of the list.”
The BVA issued a statement featuring similar concerns: who will take over the 90% of prosecution activity currently handled by the RSPCA? The worry is that the buck will eventually stop with vets, who will find themselves with a growing caseload as successful prosecutions peter out and animal cruelty continues unabated.
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