The RSPCA has vowed to continue to bring prosecutions, despite a report by a Commons committee calling for them to pass on responsibility to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The report into the welfare of domestic pets, by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, is not legally binding. However it adds to pressure on the charity, which has faced criticism over its prosecutions in the national news media.
“The Committee does not believe that the current model in England and Wales where the RSPCA brings private prosecutions alongside its investigative, campaigning and fundraising functions provides the necessary separation to ensure that there is no conflict of interest,” the report said.
“The Committee recommends that the RSPCA should continue its important work investigating animal welfare cases and working closely with the police and statutory authorities. It should, however, withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role. We are not convinced by its arguments that it is in a better position than the CPS to prosecute animal welfare cases.”
RSPCA: we will not follow the recommendations
Jeremy Cooper, chief executive of the RSPCA, said his charity did not intend to follow the report’s recommendations.
“Overall this is a very sensible report with lots of progressive measures to improve animal welfare,” he said. “We do not agree with the recommendation that the RSPCA should no longer prosecute. We are extremely proud of our near 200 years of experience investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty and our 92 per cent success rate - which is currently a higher percentage than the CPS.
“Our research shows that 89 per cent of the general public back our prosecutions work and they will be confused why a small number of MPs would suggest stopping the RSPCA carrying out a role which we are very good at and which is paid for by public donations rather than out of taxes.
“This recommendation is not supported by the Government, vets, other major animal welfare charities, and local authorities, and flies in the face of the majority of evidence put before the committee.
“We will consider this report carefully while we will continue prosecute those who starve, beat, stab, burn and abuse animals. For us the key test will be if the recommendation improves animal welfare and we suspect the answer in this case would probably be no.”
Backed by other charities
The RSPCA statement was backed by other major animal charities, including Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, PDSA, the Dogs Trust, Cats Protection and the Blue Cross, who issued a joint statement.
"As the UK’s leading animal welfare organisations, we believe that the removal of the RSPCA’s ability to prosecute animal cruelty offences would be hugely detrimental to the welfare of the thousands of animals that are victims of cruelty in England and Wales every year," the statement said.
"We would strongly question whether any other body currently exists that would have the resources to provide a service similar to the RSPCA’s considerable expertise, experience and credibility in this area. We would further fear that without the RSPCA carrying out this vital work, many cases of unacceptable animal abuse would go unprosecuted.
"Animal welfare organisations see terrible examples of animal cruelty on a depressingly frequent basis and, as a result, we place great value on the work that the RSPCA undertakes to secure prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act. We would reject any move to reduce the charity’s powers to bring the perpetrators of this cruelty to justice."
The RSPCA has previously conducted a review of its prosecutions, and has said it will conduct less in the future.