SSPCA briefs MSPs on benefit of increased investigatory powers

As we await the long-overdue decision on whether the Scottish Government will approve an increase in investigatory powers for the SSPCA (see here), the SSPCA has today published a short briefing note which has been sent to all MSPs to encourage their support of this minor change in legislation.

It’s a fantastic briefing note, short, succinct and covering the main points of this issue. It addresses six key points:

  • What enforcement powers does the SSPCA currently have?
  • Why can’t the SSPCA currently fully investigate all wildlife crimes?
  • Why does the SSPCA require additional powers to bring investigations involving wild animals into line with crimes involving other animals?
  • How can the SSPCA help improve the rate of successful wildlife crime investigations?
  • Would collaboration work?
  • What would be required to authorise the SSPCA to seize evidence of a wildlife offence?

On this last point, the SSPCA has clarified that all that is needed is for the words ‘or inspector‘ to be inserted in appropriate places in Section 19 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act. That’s it. It’s not difficult, it’s not complex (as former Environment Minister Aileen McLeod claimed), it’s just two words that could make such a difference to the effectiveness of wildlife crime enforcement in Scotland, which, let’s face it, is currently appalling:

Also included in the briefing note are the results of a recent poll commissioned by the SSPCA about public attitudes to wildlife crime in Scotland. The results speak for themselves:

The SSPCA briefing note can be read here: SSPCA briefing on increased investigatory powers

The Scottish Government’s decision on whether to increase the SSPCA’s investigatory powers will be announced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham by the end of June 2017.

If you’re living in Scotland, we’d encourage you to please contact your local MSP and let them know that wildlife crime is of concern to you. Please ask your MSP to contact Roseanna Cunningham to offer cross-political support for this very simple change in the legislation, which could bring significant and much-needed improvement to how wildlife crime is investigated. If you’re not sure who your MSP is you can find out here

10 thoughts on “SSPCA briefs MSPs on benefit of increased investigatory powers”

  1. An excellent briefing note, and if the only change needed is as described what are the government waiting for? Wildlife crime keeps being stated as a priority but if this is how the government handles priorities, we are doomed, I tell you. Do the criminals have the ear of government?

  2. This would surely help to remove the worst effect of local politics on the investigation of wildlife crime and the straightforward suggestion should make it much easier for the politicians to approve the inclusion. You would have thought though that the visiting inspector, in practical terms, would still require a colleague or another competent individual, in the absence of police, as a back-up witness.

  3. How do the additional powers being sought by the SSPCA differ from those of the RSPCA? Crime against raptors south of the border appears to be escalating – six Peregrines targeted in as many weeks recently. I understand that the RSPB are investigating these cases with the assistance of the respective police wildlife crime officers; the RSPCA do not seem to have an investigative role here.

    1. Inspectors of RSPCA have no powers whatsoever other than those available to every citizen. However, RSPCA as an organisation raises private prosecutions (which is not really an option in Scotland) and as a private prosecutor it can apply for certain court orders to secure evidence and facilitate the trial.

  4. Excellent briefing note…I would also highlight the fact that with SSPCA investigating such cases and preparing reports and statements for Court and appearing in court as expert witnesses – this will save the police and therefore the taxpayer, large sums of money.

  5. On a legislative note, can the Scottish Government amend the W&C Act or does it have to be Westminster?
    Big difference here obviously!

    1. The Scotland Act 1998 (as amended) contains, amongst other things, the matters reserved to Westminster. Wildlife and criminal justice are not reserved (in fact, relatively few things are). Everything which is not reserved is devolved, and as such within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliement can amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, insfoar as it is within its legislative competence. (For example, it cannot generally amend provisions which apply to England and Wales, or England, or Wales only.).

  6. This is a generally well drafted brief with some minor errors. However, the last point is misleading insofar as it states that all that is required to allow the Scottish SPCA to seize evidence of a wildlife offence is the ‘inclusion of the words “or inspector” at appropriate paragraphs of the act’, or that this would be a simple process.

    If ‘or inspector’ was inserted after ‘constable’ this would result in ‘inspectors’ (whoever they might be) having exactly the same powers as constables. It seems highly unlikely that such amendment would sail through the Scottish Parliament.

    Section 19 confers a wide range of powers on constables, namely the power to (a) stop and search; (b) search for, search, or examine any thing for things which might have evidential value of the commission of the offence; (c) arrest; (d) seize and detain any thing which may be evidence – all without warrant. On reasonable cause constables may, for the purpose of exercising the above powers, enter any land other than a dwelling or lockfast premises. In order to enter dwelling or lockfast premises and seize evidence constables must crave a warrant. These powers go well beyond the possible new powers set out in the consultation document:
    ‘Without a warrant:
    – enter land other than dwellings or lockfast premises;
    – search for, search or examine things if they suspect that evidence will be found in or on that thing; and
    – seize evidence.
    With a warrant:
    – enter premises not covered by the provisions described above.’ (p 5)

    My understanding was that SSPCA is not seeking stop and search or arrest powers, and if that is still the case then the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 would require a bit more tweaking than just adding the words ‘or inspector’ as the briefing note appears to imply.

    This ‘simple change’ would also require either section 27 to be amended, or an interpretation subsection added to section 19 to define ‘inspector’. Otherwise no one would know what ‘inspector’ is supposed to mean in the 1981 Act or how it is different from ‘wildlife inspector’.

    Which leads us to the next issue. Introducing the term ‘inspector’ to this Act could lead to the undesirable result of having an ‘inspector’ under section 19 – whose powers are the same as those of a constable, and also having a ‘wildlife inspector’ under section 19ZC – whose powers are more restricted. I’m not entirely sure whether or not Scottish Ministers have actually authorised any person under section 19ZC as a ’wildlife inspector’ (perhaps SNH or RPID staff?), but it seems rather unwise to create a confusing mixture of two grades of inspectors with widely different sets of powers.

    If a decision was made to extend the powers of inspectors, perhaps a more sensible way to go about it would be to either change the powers of ‘wildlife inspectors’ to include the three additional powers suggested in the consultation document, or to extensively amend section 19, so that only certain powers of the constables are exercisable by authorised persons.

    A not entirely perfect example of a similar approach can be seen in Peter Peacock’s later withdrawn amendment to the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill. Scroll down to “Enforcement: power to confer certain functions on persons other than constables” on http://

    (A minor point: schedules of Acts (and not ‘acts’) have paragraphs (or rules), but Acts themselves are comprised of sections and subsections. There are no paragraphs in any schedules of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which are relevant.)

    1. Extremely interesting and useful, thank you.

      I didn’t much like this proposal as I felt it was inconsistent with the approach used on other non wildlife related crimes.

  7. This matter has been “on the go” (as in gone nowhere) for 6 years and sits with a parliament that has not passed any legislation in over a year. A remarkable performance.

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