I welcome the fact that Members of Parliament have recently had the opportunity to debate the issue of RSPCA private prosecutions and I recognise the valuable contribution to animal welfare made by the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) in the past.
With that being said, the RSPCA is a prosecutor which in 2012 secured 3,000 convictions at a cost of £8.7 million. This is more than double the number of prosecutions it brought in 2008 when it prosecuted 1,252 defendants for cruelty to animals, compared with the Crown Prosecution Service’s 240.
The role of the RSPCA in this regard has been recently under close scrutiny and its recent sanctioning of a £300,000 private prosecution against the Heythrop Hunt brought the organisation to the attention of the Charity Commission for potentially breaching a ‘duty of prudence’ which governs its actions.
The fact that this hunt and its members were fined £6,800 really puts this total expenditure in perspective and one is poised to ask whether the hundreds of thousands of pounds of expenditure (originally donated to the RSPCA by members of the public) has been squandered unnecessarily on legal fees? How many domestic animals could have been protected and rescued with such a sum of money?
The RSPCA prosecutes when pretty much every other admirable charity, whether they deal with animal or human welfare, such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, relies entirely on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police to deal with problem areas, issues and individual cases. I believe it is right and proper that the police must gather evidence, make arrests and submit a file to the CPS, which will then apply a stringent and objective test. This process exists to ensure objectivity and accountability.
I can appreciate that the high number of animal cruelty cases has led the RSPCA to institute criminal proceedings under the Prosecution of Offences Act (1985), however I feel it should for the most part limit its role to evidence gathering and then allow the CPS to consider whether prosecution is warranted on a case by case basis.
The RSPCA has conducted sterling work since its foundation in 1824, however I believe it has lost sight of its reason for existence in recent years. That is why many people such as myself who previously fulfilled a very active role in supporting the RSPCA and its core values, now no longer do.
It might be said that the money spent on politicised advertising, lobbying or legal fees could be better spent on the welfare of many at risk domestic animals. I for one would hope that in the future the main role of the RSPCA returns to that which the vast majority of its supporters would wish it to fulfil.