Environment Committee seeks clarity from prosecutors on use of video evidence

Following recent decisions by the Crown Office to abandon two prosecution cases for alleged raptor persecution because of so-called ‘inadmissible’ video evidence (see here and here), the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee has today written to the Crown Office to ask for clarity.

Here is the letter from the Environment Committee to the Crown Office:

We applaud the Environment Committee for trying to hold the Crown Office to account. They seem to be the only ones willing to do so – everyone else seems to just shrug their shoulders and say ‘we can’t comment on Crown Office decisions’. As an example, here is the response one of our blog readers received from the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee when they asked about the Crown’s decision to abandon the prosecution for the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate:

Thank you for your email. The convener has noted the contents and asked me to reply on her behalf.

The Justice Committee is a cross-party Parliamentary body comprising members of 5 political parties. It is a scrutiny body whose remit is to consider and report on matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

Re your reference to “your justice system”, the Justice Committee does not take any decisions on the criminal process and, in particular, has no power in relation to the prosecution of individual crimes. These decisions are taken under the authority of the Lord Advocate as chief prosecutor and his independence in this role is set out in statute. The Committee is not able to comment on the specific of this case.

However, the Committee may comment on broader policy matters and I am sure that Committee members would agree that wildlife crime is a serious matter that should be tackled with vigour. For information, the Committee recently completed a major report on the COPFS, which included a short section on its handling of wildlife crime and made a recommendation for the COPFS’s consideration (paragraph 167 onwards).


It is my understanding that under some circumstances affected individuals are entitled to request a review of a decision not to prosecute, although I am not clear how that operates in the case of wildlife crime rather than a crime against a person. You may wish to direct your complaint to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and, in so doing, clarify whether there is any scope to formally object to the decision taken in this instance.

You may also with to consider contacting your constituency or regional MSPs to register your disappointment. As already stated, the Lord Advocate is independent in the prosecution of the the crime but there might possibly be other avenues for your MSP(s) to explore if they decide to take up your case.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McGrath, Clerk to the Justice Committee, The Scottish Parliament.

 To be fair to the Justice Committee, we understand that they can’t comment on individual cases. However, they say themselves that they can comment on wider policy issues, so you might think they’d have been interested in addressing the broader issues of video admissibility. But apparently not.
Thankfully, the Environment Committee thinks otherwise and we very much welcome their letter to the Crown Office. It’ll be interesting to see how forthcoming the Crown Office’s response is.
Meanwhile, news has emerged this morning that the Crown Office has dropped yet another prosecution case for alleged raptor persecution – this is the fourth abandoned case in the space of a month. We’ll be blogging about this one shortly….

14 thoughts on “Environment Committee seeks clarity from prosecutors on use of video evidence”

  1. Really interested to see if they get a reply. I notee one legal academic also stated that video captured with an aim to prosecution was inadmissible, which seems counterintuitive, but wouldn’t be the first daft decision since the Human Rights Act and RIPSA came in

  2. At least this committee is not sitting on it’s hands. We need to keep the pressure on the MSPs, as they are the only means of changing this situation, which brings shame on the Scottish Justice system.

  3. Note another case being abandoned – without knowing about the specifics, there is always the possibility of the Crown Office in the defence of previous decisions making doubly sure that precedent and consistency are the order of the day – making it all the more important for a ruling on admissibility or in the absence of that, the political option of licensing.
    The Crown Office can perhaps justifiably wait for legislation change.
    If the Grouse moor estates don’t want licensing, they should perhaps consider how zealously they defend the defendant gamekeepers. It would have you wondering whether the defendants found guilty are defended in court by the landowners’ solicitor. Could these ‘keepers be the ones who have acted under their own volition, perhaps against instruction and have no redress to the landowner. Logically the landowners’ legal team, seen to be acting for the accused ‘keeper, is really there to prevent any possibility of a “domino effect”.

  4. I had an anodyne reply to my e-mail to Margaret Mitchell from one Marianne Paton, in which she reoeated the pro-shooting propaganda on their “benefit” to the local economy. This is what she wrote:

    Dear Simon Tucker

    Ref: Persecution of Hen Harriers

    Thank you for getting in touch about the persecution of hen harriers.

    The incident that you refer to in your correspondence has been dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service. Whilst we absolutely condemn the persecution of hen harriers, we do not believe it is the role of a political party to comment on the outcome of a case.

    However, we share your concerns over the illegal persecution of birds of prey and we would encourage anyone with information about it to report what they know to the authorities. Birds of prey are protected under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 and the Scottish Government must lay an annual report on Wildlife Crime before the Scottish Parliament. Strong legislation therefore already exists and I believe that the best way to tackle criminal harm is rigorous enforcement of current laws.
    Game management on grouse moors can make an important contribution to biodiversity by providing cover for wildlife, and through the creation and care of habitats such as woodland, grouse moors, beetle banks and hedgerows. Sporting estates often play a significant role in game conservation and across the UK shoot providers spend nearly £250 million a year on conservation.

    Finally, we welcome the installation of cameras by sporting estates around hen harrier nests. This will ensure that activity around hen harriers is carefully monitored and that the protection of wildlife continues.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Best wishes,

    Margaret Mitchell MSP

    “Dealt with” Newspeak for doing nothing.

    1. ” we do not believe it is the role of a political party to comment on the outcome of a case.”
      May have been worth telling her that a political party was not being asked to comment. The Scottish Government was being asked.

      [Ed: We think this response came from Margaret Mitchell in her capacity as an MSP, not in her capacity as Convener of the Justice Committee. If that’s the case, it’s reasonable for her to assume that a question was being asked of her Party’s views (Conservative) rather than the view of the cross-party Justice Committee]

      1. Frankly the woman is partially correct…. if the grouse-moors had the woodlands hedge-rows and beetle-banks they would be much more biodiverse.

        As SLE has no influence over its members (another lip-service member of PAWS), it would be more effective if the SG placed a requirement to allow the installation of cameras as a condition of accepting any public grants or support.

      2. Except that my identical response came from a letter to her as Convenor of the Justice Committee!

  5. If the cops caught me nicking one of their cars on camera then it wouldn’t matter what the who, where, or why’s of the filming circumstances; I’d be fucking nicked and shoved down the stairs to the cells so fast that it would set a new world speed record. One law for us….

  6. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the barristers in these two cases, I assume they were barristers and not mere solicitors, in challenging the admissibility of video evidence.

    Instead of, at worst, two “rogue” gamekeepers being found guilty and being consigned quietly to history with much talk of “a few rotten apples” and “we are working very hard to reduce wildlife crime.”

    We now have Graeme Dey MSP, Convener of the Environment Committee asking questions and taking an interest.

    It appears that the “Kill for Fun Industry” has challenged the right of society to view the goings on in their world. The problem for them now is that this so called industry is being tried not by a criminal court but by the court of public opinion. And the verdict is not a favourable one.

    They may have saved two of the crew but the ship is holed and listing badly
    Time for regulation of an industry out of control and riddled with criminality.

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