RSPCA should keep ability to carry out private prosecutions, government concludes

A call from a committee of MPs to strip the animal charity of this ability has been rejected


The RSPCA should retain its ability to carry out private prosecutions, the government has concluded.

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended last year that the animal welfare charity should lose the ability to carry out private prosecutions.

It said the charity should continue to investigate animal welfare cases but "withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role".

The committee said the government should amend legislation to make the RSPCA a specialist reporting authority, which would investigate and report alleged criminal activity to the authorities, but leave the decision about whether to take a case forward to the Crown Prosecution Service.

But in its response to the report, published today, the government rejects the suggestion to make the charity a specialist reporting authority and says the charity should be free to continue bringing private prosecutions.

The response says the ability to bring private prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 has been "a powerful tool to promote animal welfare".

It says: "It is for this reason that the government does not consider, at this time, that the RSPCA should be made a specialist reporting authority."

The response says the charity should be given the opportunity to implement recommendations made in the 2014 review of its private prosecutions, which was carried out by Stephen Wooler, a former chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service.

The review came after the charity was criticised in some sections of the media for some of its private prosecution activity, including a successful case brought against members of the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire, which cost the charity more than £320,000

The Wooler report suggested that the charity set up an oversight group to scrutinise its private prosecutions and consider pursuing fewer cases against hunts and animal sanctuaries.

It said that despite "extensive criticism" in the some sections of the media, the charity made a major contribution to animal welfare and enjoyed substantial public support.

But he said the charity needed to adapt and suggested the establishment of an independent oversight panel to strengthen accountability, which started work last month.

Jeremy Cooper, chief executive of the RSPCA, said in a statement: "We are extremely pleased that the government continues to recognise the exceptional role carried out by the RSPCA in investigating and prosecuting those accused of the worst cases of animal cruelty and neglect.

"The society has a proud history of nearly 200 years investigating and prosecuting animal welfare offences.  

"We know that the public overwhelmingly wants us to undertake this role, and we welcome the support we have to carry out our prosecutions work from vets, local authorities and other animal welfare organisations."

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