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Monday, 26 December 2016

Private Prosecutions and Conflicts of Interest

The RSPCA is making the headlines again today, with news that the Government might strip it of the powers it currently holds to prosecute those accused of animal mistreatment.

The charity has attracted widespread criticism over brusque and heavy handed manner in which it has enforced animal welfare legislation. The following cases have caused particular concern:
  • The RSPCA seized much loved 16-year-old cat Claude from his owners, because his fur was overgrown and matted. Claude's owners, Richard and Samantha Byrnes, explained that their loyal feline companion, who was otherwise healthy, hated being groomed and had to be anaesthetised to have his fur trimmed. The RSPCA put Claude to sleep, ignoring the Byrnes' pleas to allow their children to say their final goodbyes. The charity then commenced a private prosecution against the Byrnes, but fortunately the CPS stepped in an halted court action.
  • In 2011 the RSPCA attempted to prosecute Tracey Johnson and her 16-year-old daughter Sophie, who had left five cocker spaniel puppies in the back garden of their Snodland home when they nipped out to the shops. It started to rain and a concerned (e.g. nosey) neighbour called the RSPCA. The charity seized the puppies and started legal proceedings against both mother and daughter. District Judge Michael Kelly, sitting at Medway Magistrates' Court, criticised the charity: "To criminalise a mother and daughter in this way, who in the previous seven weeks had cared properly for these puppies, was wrong. Their (the RSPCA's) action in this case were draconian and could have been dealt with by a warning. To prosecute them was going too far."
  • RSPCA whistle-blower Dawn Aubrey-Ward, who had worked as an inspector for two years, accused the charity of needlessly euthanising thousands of healthy animals because they couldn't be rehomed. The RSPCA attempted to discredit Dawn's concerns, by branding her a disgruntled former employee who was being investigated over the theft (or saving, many would say) of an animal in the charity's "care". Suffering from depressing, having been callously smeared by the charity she once loved, Dawn sadly committed suicide.
  • In 2012, the RSPCA spent £326k on a successful prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt. The charity reported: "We believe that this was the first ever prosecution of a traditional hunt as a corporate body. The Heythrop Hunt pleaded guilty to four offences of intentionally hunting a fox with dogs on four separate occasions." District Judge Tim Pattinson was criticised after observing (entirely correctly, in our opinion) that the charity's resources "might have been more usefully employed". Indeed, £326k would have bought a lot of tins of pet food and bales of bedding for arguably more deserving beneficiaries.
For a long time legal campaigners have expressed concern at the apparent conflict of interest that sees the RSPCA act as both investigator and prosecutor in animal welfare cases. There is a genuine fear that the RSPCA, so entwined in its desire to successfully prosecute wrong-uns, will put evidence before that court that hasn't been viewed as objectively as it should have been.

That is entirely the same situation that TV Licensing finds itself in, yet seemingly no-one bats an eyelid.

The BBC, under the guise of TV Licensing, is responsible for both investigating and prosecuting those accused of evading the TV licence fee. That's the same TV licence fee that funds none other than the BBC itself. It is a truly perverse system that sees the BBC bullying people into contributing towards its services, with the threat of criminal prosecution for anyone that fails to comply (irrespective of their legal need to do so).

What's more, the TV Licensing contractor responsible for gathering evidence and prosecuting alleged offenders, Capita Business Services Ltd, generates in excess of £120m in prosecution costs as a result. That's £120m in prosecution costs that goes straight into Capita's back pocket. Capita also incentivises the doorstep cannon-fodder it dispatches to gather evidence of wrongdoing, which often results in the collection of evidence that can described, at its most polite, as being highly questionable.

In our opinion the way the BBC has the run of the courts and prosecutes hundreds of thousands of people - many of them entirely innocent and convicted on the basis of their legal ignorance - is an absolute travesty. That's a far greater scandal than anything the RSPCA is getting up to.

We have been amiss in failing to wish all of our loyal readers the very best of the season. A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

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1 comment:

Fred Bear said...

Not only does the BBC/Capita combo carry out private prosecutions in most of the UK for financial gain, it uses non-legally qualified prosecutors.

Note in Scotland and the Channel Islands it is very different and it evident that the authorities there are becoming resistant to being used as part of the revenue raising arm of an entertainment company. In fact, is clear that in regions where the legal authorities have discretion about prosecutions, then they are very rare.