As many of you will know, for the past few months the Rural Affairs & Environment Committee of the Scottish Parliament has been hearing evidence on the proposed WaNE bill (Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill. Certain measures included in this Bill will, if accepted, help to address the on-going issue of illegal raptor persecution across Scotland.
The RAE Committee has today published its Stage 1 Report of this Bill, and they should be congratulated for their interest in, and support of, many of the suggestions made by several wildlife conservation groups to tackle raptor persecution crimes.
In a press release, Committee Convenor Maureen Watt MSP said, “We utterly condemn wildlife crime and the poisoning of iconic birds of prey such as the golden eagle and the hen harrier. The law clearly needs to be strengthened and introducing vicarious liability appears to most of us to be a step in the right direction.”
Stage 2 of the WaNE Bill is expected to take place in December.
Here is a summary of the relevant parts of the report that deal with raptor persecution:
The Committee condemns as wholly unacceptable the illegal killing of raptors which continues across Scotland. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government instructs police forces to investigate rigorously suspected cases of raptor persecution. The Committee also recommends that the Scottish Government likewise instructs the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscals office to prosecute wildlife crime vigorously.
The Committee concludes, from all evidence taken on this issue, that detection, investigation and prosecution of this crime is not resulting in a significant reduction in cases of raptor persecution, and that this should be addressed.
The Committee welcomes the Scottish Government’s intention to bring forward an amendment at Stage 2 to introduce a vicarious liability offence in the Bill, which it considers to be a helpful step in the right direction. The Committee awaits further detail on this, which was not available before the conclusion of evidence-taking at Stage 1. The Committee recognises there could be significant challenges in securing convictions under such new provisions, but believes the strengthening of the law in this regard is a helpful addition to the range of provisions available for potential prosecution.
The Committee notes that the majority of private landowners are appalled by raptor persecution. The Committee considers that such landowners should have nothing to fear from a vicarious liability provision.
The Committee welcomes the principle of the estates initiative, a voluntary good governance scheme for private land managers currently being prepared by the SRPBA, and agrees with the Minister that the scheme should be supported and given an appropriate amount of time to become established. However, the Committee also notes that the scheme will be voluntary and will therefore lack the power to compel estates that do not wish to take part. The Committee would welcome clarification from the Minister on how she plans to support the initiative.
The Committee accepts that it would represent a challenge and a significant development of policy to introduce a fully worked up system for licensing sporting estates in the Bill at this stage. The Committee also notes that the issue would not have been subject to consultation and as a result introducing such a system would be inappropriate at this time. However, the Scottish Government may wish to consider the appropriateness of introducing an enabling power in to the Bill which would permit them to introduce a licensing scheme, only after full consultation with stakeholders and parliamentary scrutiny under the super-affirmative procedure. Should it take the power, the Scottish Government could consider formally adopting the estates initiative with appropriate modifications as a code of conduct applicable to all estates. However, any such power should only be used if the Scottish Ministers are not satisfied that the voluntary approach to good governance and any vicarious liability offence are working.
The Committee notes Sheriff Drummond’s proposal to establish a presumption of guilty intent for anyone found in possession of a regulated substance. The Committee also notes his comments on whether an employer could be proven to have knowingly caused or permitted the possession of such a substance. The Committee considers that Sheriff Drummond’s proposals, and the introduction of a vicarious liability offence, are not mutually exclusive, and invites the Scottish Government to consider the proposal.
The Committee also notes the view that there is a further gap in the armoury of potential offences, that which seeks to catch those “concerned in” the use of illegal poisons for the purpose of raptor persecution or in other activity “concerned in” the offence of bird persecution. The Committee urges the Scottish Government to consider developing further offences which cover these points to further strengthen the grounds for potential prosecution.
The Committee invites the Scottish Government to consider the merits of announcing an amnesty on illegal substances such as carbofuran.
The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government reports to Parliament annually on the number of illegal raptor killings, detailing the number of cases brought and those which were successfully prosecuted.
The full report can be read here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/committees/rae/reports-10/rur10-08-00.htm