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Changes to RSPCA Suggested Following Independent Review

03 October 2014

UK - An independent review of the RSPCA’s prosecution activity has recommended a re-positioning of the charity’s long-standing enforcement role to bring it up to date with 21st century expectations of transparency and accountability.

The review acknowledges the “substantial and important” role undertaken by the RSPCA in enforcing animal welfare legislation in England and Wales and its “huge contribution to animal welfare.”

The review by former Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, Stephen Wooler, makes 33 recommendations on the Society’s investigation and prosecution activity, including:

  • inviting the Government to put the charity’s investigation and prosecution functions on a more formal basis, seeking statutory appointment of RSPCA inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act 2006
  • more detailed operational guidance to govern relationships with the police
  • re-alignment of the charity’s prosecution role in certain areas such as animal sanctuary cases
  • a comprehensive review to be undertaken by the charity of its prosecutions structure including the adoption of a prosecution policy statement and clearer guidelines on how it assesses whether to take prosecutions

The RSPCA has already appointed an internal steering group to coordinate its work on responding to the recommendations. The RSPCA Council will report back in 18 months on the progress it has achieved in responding to the recommendations.

The report says that “The RSPCA has carried on prosecutions to great effect for over 190 years. Despite the stinging criticisms of a protracted media campaign, it retains extensive public support.
Arguably then, the Society is not only making a huge contribution to animal welfare, it is also fulfilling a very significant constitutional role.”

RSPCA chairman Mike Tomlinson welcomed the report, which was commissioned by the charity in December 2013.

He said: “This report underlines the vital work undertaken by the Society and demanded by the public to investigate animal welfare issues in England and Wales, but the RSPCA accepts the need to adapt its approach to meet modern expectations of transparency and accountability in law enforcement.

"We are now considering the report’s recommendations in detail and steps are already underway to implement some of these.

“The RSPCA’s next step will be to discuss the outcome of the review with other key players in enforcement of animal welfare legislation such as the Government and other statutory enforcement bodies to develop a more clearly defined strategy for the enforcement of animal welfare legislation.”

Steps are also being considered to improve the Society’s complaints procedure to improve transparency and accountability.

Mr Tomlinson added: “The RSPCA recognises that the world has dramatically changed during the 190 years that we have been investigating animal welfare complaints and helping to enforce the country’s animal welfare laws.

“We accept the need to re-position the RSPCA’s long-standing enforcement role and will now consider these recommendations in detail. We are determined to ensure that we operate an enforcement process fit for the 21st century. The public and the animals deserve no less.”

In another recommendation, the review invites the RSPCA to develop a policy relating to its involvement in hunting prosecutions. This will require discussions with both the police and CPS.

Mr Tomlinson said: “Hunting prosecutions are a tiny part of the RSPCA’s enforcement work but this review provides an ideal opportunity to look at the way we handle such cases and to make any necessary adjustments. Significantly, the review found that the RSPCA’s prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt had been appropriately brought and was not politically motivated. We accept the criticism that the costs of that case were much too high and have implemented lessons learned in subsequent cases.”

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