In February we blogged about the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) decision not to accept the video evidence showing a head gamekeeper apparently bludgeoning crows to death with a stick inside a crow cage trap on a Scottish sporting estate (see here). The video had been filmed by a field officer from the charity OneKind who, by chance, happened to be in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your view).
OneKind appealed against the COPFS decision not to initiate court proceedings against the gamekeeper but the Lord Advocate ruled that the COPFS decision would stand. In response, OneKind submitted a petition to the Scottish Government, signed by over 2,000 members of the public who were disgusted by what they’d seen in the video. OneKind asked the Scottish Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson, for greater clarity on what is / isn’t considered admissable evidence in wildlife crime cases.
Here’s his reply:
“….the Scottish Government believes it is vital to all our efforts in tackling wildlife crime, for members of the public who come across anything suspicious to report what they have seen to the police.
I would however note that there is a difference between cases where members of the public come across evidence that seems to point to a wildlife crime, and those cases where a person who is employed as, or is acting in some capacity as, a wildlife crime investigator, reports such evidence. It is for the Crown Office to decide on how a court would deal with evidence in either of those cases, and their decision on whether to prosecute a case is final”.
See here for the full update on the crow-killing incident provided by OneKind.
So, what have we learned? If you’re a member of the public who doesn’t really know what you’re looking at, or how to record evidence that might be crucial in a subsequent prosecution, then your ‘evidence’ will probably be admissable. However, if you’re someone who knows exactly what you’re looking at and has been trained in the best techniques of evidence collection and preservation, then your evidence will probably be inadmissable.
And the logic in that is….what, exactly? Are there any other areas of criminal law where these double standards apply? (This is a genuine question – we don’t know the answer but would like to hear from anyone who can enlighten us and help us to understand these rules).
Is it any wonder our wildlife crime conviction rates (and especially for raptor persecution incidents) are so pathetically low? How many more legal obstacles are going to be placed in the way of bringing these criminals to justice?