An animal charity has denied claims it acted improperly after a judge criticised its “perverse” and “over-zealous” use of private prosecutions.
Manchester Crown Court judge Nicholas Dean criticised Animal Protection Services and said dozens of pet owners might have suffered miscarriages of justice after being unfairly prosecuted by the charity and Parry & Welch, a law firm it worked with.
A report in The Times newspaper today said concerns were raised when a case against two defendants charged with unlawfully selling pets was stopped and the judge said the prosecutions were an abuse of court process.
The charity denied any allegation that it had acted “improperly or maliciously” and said it was considering legal action against Parry & Welch.
The judge said the private prosecutions brought by the charity and its law firm were pursued “with no evidential basis” and “for wholly improper reasons and purposes”.
Dean said the charity and its lawyers had used a “perverse interpretation” of the law to bring charges in cases where “no one could properly conclude that there were realistic prospects for conviction”.
His ruling also highlighted that in the two separate cases, prosecution evidence involved “near identical” two-page witness statements that had been submitted by an employee of the charity, which the judge said “must have been copied and pasted from other statements”.
The judge also accused the charity of avoiding a jury trial in the Crown Court as a way to “avoid judicial scrutiny of their decisions and actions”.
In a statement, the charity said it wished to clarify its position on the private prosecutions undertaken on its behalf and claims of "over-zealous prosecution".
It said: “The decision whether to issue a summons is a judicial one, not an administrative one. As such, the summons and accompanying case file was subject to judicial scrutiny prior to the first hearing.
“We have not had an application for summons that has been rejected by the magistrates' court.
“Furthermore, when files have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for adoption and discontinuance of proceedings, the CPS has to date refused to take over and/or discontinue any prosecutions instituted by our charity.
“We strongly deny any allegation that we have acted improperly or maliciously. We maintain that the CPS Full Code Test was considered and met in all cases.
“We are not lawyers, but rather private animal welfare investigators, and therefore rely on the support of the qualified legal professionals to conduct our criminal proceedings.
In light of the circumstances, however, we will be conducting an internal review of our investigative processes.
“We will co-operate fully with any regulatory investigation to address any concerns.”
The charity said it was also considering civil proceedings against its previous legal advisers Parry & Welch.