Memorandum submitted by the Self-Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others Experiencing Difficulties with the RSPCA
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ms Anne Kasica, Member, Mr Ernest Vine, Member, Mr David Arthur, Member, Ms Joan Jackson, Self-Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others Experiencing Difficulties with the RSPCA, Mr Christopher Day, Homeopathic Vet, and Mr Jonathan Cairns, Solicitor from Shulmans Solicitors, examined.
Q770 Chairman: I will not say we are quite outnumbered but you have certainly brought a large number of people. We have before us the Self-Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others Experiencing Difficulties with the RSPCA. I do not want you to give your life history but might you just identify yourself for the record and let us know, if you hold a position in this organisation, what it is or if you are a farmer or animal keeper, just give us a brief introduction. We will start with Ms Jackson.
Ms Jackson: I am the owner of the pet shop in Doncaster. I have come with Jonathan Cairns.
Q771 Chairman: You are an owner of a pet shop in?
Ms Jackson: In Doncaster and we have had experience of the RSPCA.
Q772 Chairman: Mr Cairns, tell us about you.
Mr Cairns: My position here is I have been asked by three separate groups to attend, the Self-Help Group, Ms Jackson and Mr Christopher Newman, whom I believe has been assisting the Committee with other matters. I believe I can assist the Committee with matters of practical application as far as the stages of investigation of the RSPCA are concerned and in particular with section 11(3) in the draft Bill.
Q773 Chairman: When you are not doing all of this what do you do?
Mr Cairns: I am a solicitor, sir, from Shulmans Solicitors.
Q774 Chairman: Mr Arthur, where do you fit in?
Mr Arthur: I am very much new to all this. I do not form an actual part of the SHG. I am just a private individual, I sit on the periphery of the SHG and discuss various matters with them, in other words I interact with the SHG.
Q775 Chairman: And what do you do to keep body and soul together?
Mr Arthur: Whatever I can, sir.
Q776 Chairman: What are you doing at the moment or are you like an actor in between roles?
Mr Arthur: I have been known to be an actor in between roles but yes, basically I am putting together a business at the moment.
Q777 Chairman: Right. Mr Day?
Mr Day: I am a veterinary surgeon in a referral practice. I write books and I lecture and I am an expert witness on occasions and I use alternative medicine. I have been asked on occasions by this organisation to offer advice and counsel.
Q778 Chairman: Right. Mr Vine?
Mr Vine: I might make a suggestion that you ask Ms Kasica next because she actually founded it and I help with it, dealing with people, people phone in, they need help, they need ‑
Q779 Chairman: So you are part of the organisation?
Mr Vine: I am part of the organisation.
Q780 Chairman: Right, well, now we have found the fount of all knowledge.
Ms Kasica: I founded the organisation when I was prosecuted back in 1989. I found there was no help anywhere. Solicitors I went to had no clue how to deal with an RSPCA investigation and prosecution. I saw in the Farmers’ Weekly that another farmer had been prosecuted in similar circumstances. I tried to contact him and in the end rang the magazine, spoke to a journalist, who said, “Oh, you want to start a self-help group.” I did not but he wrote an article to that effect and calls came in literally from Southampton to the Shetlands.
Q781 Chairman: And how long have you been helping each other?
Ms Kasica: Since 1990.
Q782 Chairman: Since 1990. Right, now we have got an idea of your backgrounds and where you are coming from, the role of the RSPCA in prosecution mode ‑ and I am not going to ask you the standard question we started with because I think your focus is very much on the prosecution side of the Bill and you would not be here if you did not have reservations about those aspects ‑ the Bill does appear to bestow upon the RSCPA a special status. Perhaps you might like to just comment by way of opening about the role that you perceive that the RSPCA might undertake in the context of this particular measure and the reservations you might have. Obviously all of you I guess must have had some experience in terms of prosecutory activity by the RSPCA and I think the Committee might find it helpful to know the type of problems that you come up against that you might wish to alert us to. Ms Kasica, shall we start with you. Obviously we cannot on every question have everybody speaking so a little bit of self‑discipline would be helpful.
Ms Kasica: Do you want me to stick to my specific case or do you want me to tell you about the whole range of cases from people who just ring us with a question, a query, a worry, right through the line to the people who commit suicide?
Q783 Chairman: We are not in the role of an “agony aunt” for those who have been subject to prosecutory activity but I think what we are looking for are some general points which arise from your various experiences with the RSPCA. You have had some problems. They do have a special role in terms of prosecutions of animal welfare and if you have some general reservations that you wish to illustrate by way of actions that have occurred to those along the table or others who have been in touch with you, fine. I think the only thing that I would caution you on is please stick to the facts of the matter. Normally on these occasions when people have differing views, we have the benefit of the other side sitting alongside to publicly rebut whatever is said. I have no doubt that the RSPCA will in their usual way be taking very careful note of what is being put forward and I would just for the record say that they are coming back to see us tomorrow morning to deal with some of the issues that have come up so far in our proceedings so if you would care to reflect upon those points in framing any of your replies. Right, fire away.
Ms Kasica: Our worry is that you are going to empower an organisation ‑‑‑
Q784 Chairman: May I say we are not. The Government have put forward the draft Bill and they may.
Ms Kasica: --- may empower an organisation which is often campaigning politically to end the very activities that they are going to be investigating in their prosecutarial role. That is somewhat biased from the very beginning. How can they be non‑judgmental? How can they go in from ground level and do this? If you then go on to look at a typical prosecution where the RSPCA starts an investigation, seizes animals (often unlawfully and often in very strange circumstances) you have the flow very much from the figures supplied to you of people who find they have signed their animals away when they did not even know what they were signing. They swear that they thought they were just signing them over for a couple of weeks respite care. You go on and on with this and then we have supplied you with some figures which should be in front of you. We only obtained these figures in the past couple of days. They flow very much from the figures supplied to you by Jackie Ballard. Yes, she is right, 96 per cent of their prosecutions are successful ‑ until they get to appeal. Consider this: the number of defendants who appeal magistrates’ convictions is more than 26 times greater in RSPCA prosecutions than those progressed by the CPS and the number of successful appeals at crown court is almost three times greater in RSPCA prosecutions than those progressed by the CPS. Surely there is something wrong when you see such a vast discrepancy in those figures.
Q785 Chairman: Mr Cairns, you are the lawyer and you have watched the RSPCA as a prosecuting body and you have heard what Ms Kasica has had to say. Give us your take on that.
Mr Cairns: If I give you some early examples. The practical position in the first instance is the defendants do not know where to go or how to get legal advice. A very common story is that people come to me and say they have been to see a solicitor and they have simply been told to plead guilty. These cases are quite difficult, they are quite complex. What happens is that defendants are quite often questioned by RSPCA inspectors before there has been any form of disclosure, they are interviewed in their home addresses or in the street. It is very difficult for those individuals to know exactly what the medical position is. In practical terms what happens with these cases is that they can take up to four to six months before the real case papers are served on defendants, and I come back to clause 11(3) so far as that would apply in practical proceedings. These cases can take up to 12 months to come to a final hearing and in contested cases the typical shape of a case now is lasting anywhere from four to ten days. It is being heard in a magistrates’ court with a number of expert witnesses and typically these cases are now being assigned to district judges. The majority of district judges seem to have a good grasp and handle on the facts and issues before them and they are making what I would say are reasonably fair decisions.
Q786 Chairman: Can I just ask Joan Jackson are you here because you have been the subject of prosecution?
Ms Jackson: Yes.
Q787 Chairman: What happened to you?
Ms Jackson: Firstly, can I just say thank you to everybody who answered our submission. We sent a submission to everybody on the Committee here, so thank you for replying. Myself and my husband have a specialist reptile and fish shop in Doncaster and we were visited by the RSPCA in February 2003 and, like Mr Cairns said, it took a long time for our case to come to court. It was six months before the papers were served and then it took 14 months before it came into court for a four‑day hearing which was then adjourned because only the prosecution evidence was heard and after two weeks of the judge deliberating the charges were then dropped and the case was dismissed. During that time we found life very, very difficult. We did not know how to go about it at first but we had heard who to contact and we progressed from there with the help of Mr Cairns and Mr Newman. The powers that the RSPCA already have are quite worrying but to give them any more in the Animal Welfare Bill we think it is quite frightening from our point of view because they appear to be accountable to no‑one. They seem to have the power to come in and they do not need to have a reason. The reason they gave us on the day as different to the reason they gave in court. It just begs the question what was the reason for coming in? Was there a reason? From the investigation that we made through the Data Protection Act there was no reason. So we find it very, very worrying. We also think that as far as seizures go the seizure itself was debatable. They called the Police we were told so that the Police could seize the animals because under the law only they can seize animals but the Police came only under a breach of the peace request. We have letters from South Yorkshire Police saying they did not seize the animals. Our animals were taken, they died in their care, not in our care. They were fine when they left us. They were taken as a precautionary measure. The animals died yet we were accused of neglect and cruelty for which we were prosecuted. We find that very, very worrying. It happened to us, it will happen to others, and it has happened to others.
Q788 Paddy Tipping: I would just like to clarify what you think the Bill says about the RSPCA. I cannot see the RSPCA mentioned at all in the Bill. Presumably you are concerned that they might be appointed as inspectors by a local authority?
Mr Vine: We know for a fact that the RSPCA has been approaching local councils and county councils and so on and saying, “Can we have meetings to see how we can enforce these new powers.” We know that.
Ms Kasica: Powers they have been granted as prosecutors under the 2000 amendment. Remember they have been saying for a long time they want no more powers, they do not want to be prosecutors and yet we suddenly find that they have been negotiating with Defra to obtain those powers. Assuming those powers are going to be transported into this Act which I understand they will be ‑‑‑
Q789 Paddy Tipping: Can I just stop you there. Why do you say you understand they will be?
Ms Kasica: From the wording of the proposed Act.
Q790 Paddy Tipping: Perhaps Mr Cairns can help you. Just draw my attention to where it says that these powers are going to be imported across to the RSPCA.
Mr Cairns: For my part I make no assumption it is going to be the RSPCA who will fulfil the full role of prosecution but in practical terms it is difficult to envisage any other organisation who on a national scale could actually take it on. I accept there could be restrictions placed on the RSPCA in certain areas.
Q791 Paddy Tipping: Okay. Clearly all of you have had contact with the RSPCA and have a view, if I can put it like that, on the RSPCA. Are you saying to us as a Committee you would not want the RSPCA validated as inspectors?
Ms Kasica: Very much so, unless there are strict controls and proper safeguards so that where an investigator or prosecutor breaches someone’s human rights or destroys animals when they should not there should be some very severe comeback and there should be a requirement that the case is dropped. Furthermore it should be that prosecutor who would be prosecuting.
Q792 Paddy Tipping: Okay. I think Mr Cairns has just told us that the RSPCA might be in the frame as a national body to do this. You have told us very strongly that you do not want them to do so.
Ms Kasica: No.
Q793 Paddy Tipping: Just spell out for us who you think should. You are all involved with animal welfare, you all care about animals. Just sketch out for us who should be the inspectors.
Mr Vine: Just now you said that we have all obviously had contact with the RSPCA. I have never had any problem with the RSPCA except for the fact that I do not like the way they operate and take the law into their own hands.
Paddy Tipping: That is a fairly definitive view. Let’s go forward. You are involved with animals. Just spell out for me what you would envisage under the Act as inspectors? What kind of people?
Q794 Chairman: Mr Day, you can add your two pennyworth after Mr Vine has finished.
Mr Vine: Properly qualified and trained people.
Q795 Paddy Tipping: Help me with that. That is a big catch‑all, is it not?
Ms Kasica: Defra, local animal health, local ‑‑‑
Q796 Chairman: One at a time because Mr Day wants to get his bit in as well. You finish, Mr Vine.
Mr Vine: The RSPCA certainly know their law and how to walk round it but they themselves have been approaching all different animal groups and saying, “We do not have the expertise in your animals. We need help. Will you collaborate with us?” They admit themselves that they do not have the knowledge of the animals so how can they be inspectors?
Q797 Paddy Tipping: Help us with where we are at. You were saying Defra, local authorities ---
Ms Kasica: --- Local authorities, animal health organisations.
Q798 Paddy Tipping: Vets, presumably? Mr Day, you were going to add to the list?
Mr Day: I have 32 years of experience of RSPCA prosecutions and I have acted as an expert witness on either side of the court because obviously my duty is to help the court. I also have to declare that I was personally prosecuted by the RSPCA unsuccessfully and in fact the judge did exonerate me. That case was a very typical example where the animal was seized unlawfully and it died very quickly in RSPCA care. The owners had no right of redress and they were jointly prosecuted with me. It has come to my notice that the RSPCA appear to have a bias against alternative medicine and appear to equate it with no veterinary treatment, which is a very unfortunate approach, and it has been the feature of several cases. They also appear to have a bias against organic farming. One of my big concerns as a constituent is that any inspector should not have any vested interest and the RSPCA have a vested interest in the publicity gained by prosecutions and they are in the market place with the Freedom Food brand. Therefore, they have a very strong vested interest in that aspect of animal management and therefore I think that renders them unfit as an inspectorate.
Q799 Paddy Tipping That is pretty clear - not the RSPCA - but who?
Mr Day: Defra is clearly in a position that it could move into this area. Otherwise one has to envisage setting up training for a dedicated inspectorate. Typifying most of the cases I have been involved with is a lack of understanding of the issues and the bringing of the emotive side to court and not the factual side. We are all affected emotively. I have to support any attempt to improve animal welfare. It is my duty as a vet and it is my first and foremost raison d’etre in my whole professional life, so I am not against the Act in itself or the Bill in itself. I am against anything that would perhaps endanger both animal welfare, which I have seen happen in these cases, and human rights.
Q800 Paddy Tipping: So are you telling me that the RSPCA is a force for bad rather than a force for good?
Mr Day: From a lot of what I have seen it would appear that way.
Q801 Paddy Tipping: Right, that is the view of all of you?
Ms Kasica: Yes.
Mr Arthur: Unfortunately, yes.
Mr Day: I support the idea of an RSPCA. I think we need an RSPCA in this country and in the world. I just think that there are certain ways that it operates at the moment that are unsuitable to its purpose.
Q802 Chairman: Just to sum up before I bring Mr Lazarowicz in on this, I think you would all agree they really should not have a role as prosecutor. Is that the sum total of where you are coming from?
Mr Day: That is where I am coming from certainly.
Mr Cairns: If there were checks and balances in place. If, for example, the RSPCA were an investigating body but the prosecutions were carried out by somebody independent such as the CPS that for me as a lawyer would satisfy the appropriate position.
Ms Kasica: We accept that too.
Chairman: Right, so it is independence from bias in the prosecutory process which is the key thing. Mr Lazarowicz?
Q803 Mr Lazarowicz: Just a point of clarification on the figures which you have produced to back up your presentation. I see that you calculate the rate of guilty convictions in RSPCA prosecutions as being 26 times higher than that in the case of CPS prosecutions.
Mr Vine: Mr Arthur, I think is the expert on this.
Q804 Mr Lazarowicz: What I do not see in your figures is the absolute number of CPS convictions to compare with the absolute number of RSPCA convictions.
Mr Arthur: The numbers in CPS cases are obviously far greater than they are in RSPCA prosecutions and these numbers are detailed quite clearly on the web sites of the sources that I have placed here. What we have done is to take the percentages stated by the Crown Prosecution Service of convictions, of pleas of not guilty, of people then found ‑‑‑
Q805 Mr Lazarowicz: This is all CPS convictions that you are talking about here?
Mr Vine: It does not stipulate they are all CPS but it is certainly confined to CPS convictions. It is information which is obviously supplied by the Lord Chancellor’s Department Crown Prosecution Service.
Mr Lazarowicz: Thank you.
Q806 Mr Wiggin: As I understand it, the RSPCA can prosecute at the moment and in this Bill their powers will be potentially strengthened but the law will be clearer certainly, and we have heard from everybody that there are good bits and bad bits. I am just a little bit concerned about what they will do should you be right. If we do go down the Defra/State Veterinary Service route what will the RSPCA do then?
Mr Arthur: I must stress that along with everyone on this desk I am very much pro animal welfare. I am also very much pro human welfare. Sections 11, 13, 39 and 40 provide that an inspector or police constable, persons who in all probability would have little real knowledge or experience of animal husbandry, with the authority to enter a property that is not a private dwelling (and the definition of private dwelling I would suggest is again a hugely subjective area) seize an animal, kill that animal, possibly on the spot if in his personal opinion it appears to him that the animal is suffering or not being properly cared for or simply likely to suffer or not be properly cared for if its circumstances do not change, which I would suggest is again another highly subjective area, if it appears to him, a virtually lay person who will almost certainly be uneducated in the accurate or precise interpretation of observable signs, let alone produce a meaningful diagnosis or prognosis. The RSPCA for example would no doubt claim that all their inspectors are fully trained yet I know one renowned veterinary practice in Abergavenny that was contacted by an RSPCA inspector with a request that they attend a horse to put it down in consequence of it appearing to him, the RSPCA inspector, to be suffering with its feet. The vet duly attended the animal and advised the RSPCA that the horse’s condition did not warrant its destruction but that corrective farriery would resolve the problem and that they would contact their own orthopaedic farrier in order that this be done. The animal’s owner was present throughout all of this. The vet then returned to the practice’s premises and contacted their farrier. An appointment was arranged for the farrier to attend the following day, the slight delay causing the vet no concern whatsoever. This information was then passed on to the horse’s owner and the RSPCA inspector. However, the inspector insisted that tomorrow was too late, that the horse was suffering. The inspector, despite the advice of an equine veterinary surgeon from a practice which provides the British Horse Society with a team vet for prestigious international events, shot the horse because of the way it appeared personally to him, effectively an unqualified layman. So what if that horse had been a valuable thoroughbred, a breed with a recorded ancestry back into the 1600s so a horse that was a combination of over 300 years and approximately 28 generations of highly selective and capable breeding regimes, 300 years of hope, planning, dreams and aspirations.
Chairman: That is very helpful, Mr Arthur, but I do not think that was the response to the question that Mr Wiggin asked so perhaps Mr Wiggin might like to restate it and seek an answer.
Q807 Mr Wiggin: I will give you another chance here. The problem is the RSPCA is not going to go away so if we have a separate inspectorate what do you think they are going to do?
Mr Arthur: Precisely what I have just said, sir ‑‑‑
Q808 Mr Wiggin: I am sorry, I do not accept that. I am pretty sympathetic to your case but I do not really want another lesson on an Abergavenny vet. I want to know what you think the RSPCA should really be doing.
Ms Kasica: Can I ask if you are saying if the RSPCA are prevented from taking part in prosecutions? Is that what you are saying?
Q809 Mr Wiggin: In this Bill if they are not allowed to be inspectors, because that is what the Bill says, what will they do?
Ms Kasica: We cannot possibly answer that.
Q810 Mr Wiggin: Tell me what you would like them to do.
Mr Day: I would like to see them doing the role I always understood from childhood they fulfilled, which is to highlight areas of animal welfare problems or possible areas of animal welfare problems and bring them to the notice of the proper authorities and perhaps recommend education or recommend certain improvements, bring expertise into help, and not have prosecution as the first weapon, and it is used as a weapon unfortunately. There are many cases from my practice career where a little education and a few words would have worked wonders whereas prosecutions brought distress to animals and to people and obviously it is where animals are concerned that I have to have my main concern.
Q811 Mr Wiggin: I think in the drafting of this Bill the Government’s approach seems to be one in which prevention is better than prosecution and I think you would all find favour with that. What we want to achieve is to ensure that what we enshrine in the Act when it becomes an Act will allow the best animal welfare procedures to take place but without the persecution of people such as yourself by this charity, and therefore there has to be a role and we have to take it forward.
Mr Day: I have concerns as a member of the public about the possibility of unrestricted access at whim and the way in which that would be done.
Ms Kasica: I could further comment on the potential role of the RSPCA. On the original role of the RSPCA, according to their founder Richard Martin at the inaugural meeting of what was to become the RSPCA, he said it would be a disaster if the RSPCA were to become known as a prosecuting society. He said that their aim should be to alter the moral tone of the country. What the RSPCA should be doing is going to people who have a problem, perhaps someone has died, perhaps they have become ill or unemployed, and they should say, “You have run out of money. Let us help you.” You have got arthritis, you cannot trim your dog’s nails, let us send our volunteers round.” Not prosecution first and foremost.
Q812 Mr Wiggin: I think they would probably agree with that so that is very helpful, thank you.
Mr Day: In the recent foot and mouth disaster, for instance, there were many cases of acknowledged animal suffering where funds could have helped those animals through helicopter airlifts of food or something. People had donated funds expecting them to go to animal welfare improvement and some of these animals could have been saved and their welfare enhanced by investment as opposed to just standing and watching. We have had cases in Swindon, which is local to me, where private animal welfare activists have had to go in and help in cases where the RSPCA will not help because nobody will come forward and help in prosecution.
Q813 Mr Wiggin: Certainly in the way that we have heard the modern pet shop will be selling exotic pets, there are very different levels of expertise that somebody who knows about dogs could not possibly have about the ultraviolet light requirements of some reptiles and various other problems. So I think the Bill would like to take that into consideration. It is how we do it that is the challenge.
Mr Day: On the avoidance issue I would like to see an end to the practice for instance where another cat in Swindon was brought to me with a collar round its neck “RSPCA aware” rather like a car in a ditch saying “Police aware”. This animal was dying of chronic kidney disease and four people had complained about that animal to the RSPCA to my knowledge and they had either released it again with its collar or given the collar to somebody to put on it to stop them being pestered. You ask what role they should fulfil. I think that is the role that they should be fulfilling ‑ enhancing animal welfare wherever animal welfare is threatened.
Q814 Mr Lepper: It is helpful to have your view about what role you feel the RSPCA should be following. You said I think, Ms Kasica, that the organisation has been in existence since 1990?
Ms Kasica: Yes.
Q815 Mr Lepper: You talked about numbers of people from Southampton to the Shetland Islands who have been in contact with you. How many people nationally have been involved in the organisation, would you guess, since 1990?
Ms Kasica: Oh crumbs, many hundreds. I have three and a half filing cabinets full, to give you some idea.
Q816 Mr Lepper: Okay. It is my ignorance I am sure but until you put in your submission to this inquiry I had not heard of your group before over these 14 years. That is my ignorance I am sure. Could you just tell us briefly please what action you have taken over those 14 years to make the public perhaps aware of your concerns about the RSPCA?
Ms Kasica: Initially we were in Farmers’ Weekly. We have been on the Farming Today programme, in the Guardian. Of course, it is very difficult to get the media to take up any cause that does not support the RSPCA so until we were able to get Internet access and a web site we did not take off as rapidly, but once of course we got a web site and a national helpline number the floodgates opened. To be honest, the thought of this Bill terrifies me because we simply would not be able to cope. We do not get a fraction the number of people who are being prosecuted in this country coming to us and our resources are stretched. We are all self‑funding. We have no outside income whatsoever and it would be impossible, especially if the number of prosecutions, as has been predicted, goes up.
Q817 Mr Lepper: One final question, if I may, about the nature of the organisation and the people who have contacted you. Have you any rough estimate of the proportions of those people who have contacted you over the years who are farmers, those who are ordinary members of the public, those who are pet shop owners?
Ms Kasica: It changes depending on the current RSPCA campaign. We tend to find that the type of animal or the type of activity that is being investigated goes with whatever publicity campaign is running. Whether that is because those people get together, talk to each other and someone finds us and they pass it on amongst themselves, I do not know, or whether it is because the RSPCA looks more closely at those types of activities when they have a campaign on, again I do not know.
Q818 Alan Simpson: Let me try and take the RSPCA out of this for a moment. Who do you think should be prosecuting you?
Mr Vine: The CPS.
Ms Kasica: The Police/CPS or Defra/CPS or local authority/CPS. There should always be a second assessment of the facts. I think this is the fault that has led to the huge discrepancies in the appeals figures. Originally the right to prosecute was taken from the Police because it was believed that they would have too great an interest in obtaining a successful prosecution having been involved in the initial investigation. You are talking about a campaigning body who wants to end particular activities and then you are allowing that campaigning body to run riot. You see where I am going?
Q819 Alan Simpson: Sure, I just wanted to take that part out for a moment and just follow this one through. Whoever you then give the rights of prosecution to, would you still have the same objections to unrestricted right of access?
Ms Kasica: Yes, very much so.
Q820 Alan Simpson: Can you explain to the Committee why you feel that in terms of animal welfare you should have rights that do not apply in other aspects of criminal law? The Police currently have powers to enter someone’s premises where they have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence is being committed.
Mr Vine: That is the Police and they are answerable to other bodies.
Q821 Alan Simpson: Sure, but what I am saying to you is I first of all asked you to define who you would want to be the body that was prosecuting you and then you have to say okay and on what basis do you secure the evidence that you would need for a successful prosecution. In other aspects of criminal law it is quite straightforward, the Police have unrestricted rights of entry where they have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed, so why should you be any different?
Ms Kasica: Because in today’s society the modern witch-hunt has become the suspicion of animal neglect and animal abuse. Very much along the lines of child abuse where you have seen the scandals wherein the professionals do not listen, this is happening in animal cases.
Q822 Alan Simpson: If we were doing this in terms of child care, if we were doing it in terms of other criminal activity, the response to that answer would be to say really you are wanting the law to give the criminal notice of your intention to turn up to look for the evidence that you have just told them you are going to be coming to look for and you have given them the time to hide. Does that not make an ass of the law?
Ms Kasica: No, because parts of this Bill are creating, for instance, licences and breach of licence conditions in itself will be a crime which has no effect on the animal welfare issues. The animal may well be in perfect condition, better kept than by anybody who has a licence, and yet you will have powers of entry to anywhere that you think those licence conditions may be breached.
Q823 Alan Simpson: Or the animal could be conveniently lost by the time the Police turn up.
Ms Kasica: That goes the same for any situation anywhere.
Q824 Alan Simpson: No, the issue that I am trying to raise is that if you give notice in any other aspect of the law you give the person committing the offence the opportunity to hide or lose the evidence.
Ms Kasica: I think the problem is that in these cases you very often are talking about people’s homes, their family life, their pets are part of their family. You are then going to raid their premises on a minor issue. I cannot see where you are coming from, I am sorry, we need a better definition of the question.
Q825 Mr Wiggin: What I think my colleague is saying is that if you are breaking the law on animal welfare and it is not going to be the RSPCA, it is going to be the local authority, then they ought to have unfettered access, should they not?
Ms Kasica: Only if there are proper and adequate controls.
Mr Wiggin: Yes, but if it was the local authority and the Police ---
Q826 Chairman: The main message that is coming through is whoever prosecutes it should be on the basis of a well‑founded and proper and logical approach. Mr Day, you have been anxious to come in.
Mr Day: I am possibly ignorant of the law on this, forgive me if I am but I am a veterinary surgeon. I understand that the Police would have to seek those powers in certain instances in order to come in and gain access not from the owner or the proprietor or whoever but from the appropriate authority before they came in to seek their evidence. I do not think the Police have the right to come and see my veterinary records of clients’ activities, for instance, without a search warrant. I may be wrong but that is the attitude I take in client confidentiality and unless they have gone through the proper channels my clients’ confidentiality is sacrosanct. Furthermore, if we look in this Bill we have the concept of the possibility of animal welfare problems in somebody’s view inciting them to have unfettered access. That would make me very frightened. If there is a very genuine ground that animal welfare is being jeopardised then I can see the point but through the proper channels, not at somebody’s whim who could then at 8 o’clock in the evening decide to just pop in and have access because he knows the owners are not there and do what he wishes.
Q827 Chairman: In fairness, you may not have had a chance to study all the evidence that the Committee has had. Just for the record, at the beginning one of the questions that we originally asked the RSPCA was how do you go about the question of investigating and then subsequently prosecuting and they and others have made it clear that it is a whole myriad of information that comes from members of the public who feed this information in. In other words I think what you are concerned about is are people going to go on fishing expeditions?
Mr Day: I am concerned about the possibility of abuse of process.
Q828 Chairman: Ms Jackson wants to amplify that point.
Ms Jackson: I must come in at this point because when we were visited by the RSPCA they had no reason to come in. They came in under one pretext; in court they said something different. According to them they had had a number of complaints against us ‑ a number of complaints ‑ and yet when we went through the Data Protection Act to investigate the number of complaints to find out where they came from and in what period of time there were none. My concern is that they do come in perhaps without any particular reason but also they do not seem to be as knowledgeable as they should be in the area in which they are inspecting.
Chairman: Mr Wiggin is going to ask one final question.
Q829 Mr Wiggin: What I was concerned by was what you said earlier about the trends in prosecutions so when there is a campaign of some sort that is then presumably followed by a string of cases that go to prosecution. I am very worried about a charitable organisation that needs to raise funds using its prosecutory powers to emphasise or in some way enhance its fundraising ability because they would, and it is not unfair, and if they are doing a good job they should tell people about it, however the cart must not come before the horse, if you see what I mean. Is that what is going on because nobody else would be able to tell us?
Ms Kasica: We can only tell you that we see a trend. We do not have the figures for the entire country. We had enough of a struggle to get the prosecution figures that we asked for. It was only Charles Hendry, one of your colleagues, who obtained them for one of his constituents who passed them on to us.
Q830 Mr Wiggin: I have certainly noticed in my constituency where there are a lot of poultry growers that this campaign about the strength of chickens’ legs comes up once every three or four years and there are some pretty horrible pictures. The poultry sector responds but that is ignored and the campaign is run again. I just wondered if that is the sort of thing you are seeing as well?
Ms Kasica: Yes we do.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. I think without doubt you have alerted us clearly to your concerns about the way that prosecutions should be conducted under this Bill. I have no doubt, as I said at the outset, that the RSPCA will have heard what you have had to say and it may well be that when they come before us for a brief session tomorrow they may wish to comment on some of the points that you have made it. I think it might be quite helpful to hear what they do have to say. Can I thank you again for the contribution you have made and for the written evidence you have sent us. Thank you very much.