Scottish Parliament evidence session on proposed wildlife crime penalties increase

Raptor Persecution UK was one of a number of organisations giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee last week on the proposed increase in penalties for wildlife crime.

The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham on 30th September 2019 (see here for associated docs) and will, amongst other things, increase the maximum available penalties for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife offences.

See here for an earlier blog on this subject.

The Bill is currently at Stage 1 and the ECCLR Committee has been taking evidence from a wide range of authorities and organisations. Last Tuesday saw representatives from the grouse shooting industry, conservation organisations, Police Scotland, SNH and the Crown Office sharing their opinions in an informal round-table discussion:

The transcript can be read here: ECCLR report_10Dec2019

The archived video can be watched here

We’ll come back to some of the detail of this discussion in further blogs, particularly about some of the claims made by BASC in relation to the supposed effectiveness of general licence restrictions, where the evidence simply doesn’t support some of the assertions made.

We’ll also be considering the claim from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association that “A five-year jail term will mean that more people will go to jail than has been previously the case“. Really? Why’s that, then? Are more gamekeepers at it than are currently being caught? Surely not. And how will an increased penalty mean more offenders are jailed? You’ve got to catch them first and then have sufficient evidence to get them in to court.

This Bill is very welcome as it stands, but perhaps more importantly it also has the potential to include some pretty useful amendments as it progresses through Parliament. Of particular interest to us is that increased powers for the SSPCA is back on the table. Given the complete failure of the Scottish Government’s alternative course of action (Police Special Constables in the Cairngorms National Park – a scheme that failed to report a single wildlife crime), it seems the timing is just right.

Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon will be giving evidence to the ECCLR Committee tomorrow and will no doubt face questions about some of the proposals already heard.

15 thoughts on “Scottish Parliament evidence session on proposed wildlife crime penalties increase”

  1. I think you told us before that increased sentences would bring these offences in to the realm of more serious crime, which in turn would mean that video evidence, previously ruled out would be admissible in future cases? Perhaps this is what SGA mean by “A five-year jail term will mean that more people will go to jail than has been previously the case“? In other words, we have got away with quite a few and now we won’t.

    1. I had the same first question.
      But not sure about the second. Are the SGA that smart? Unless video evidence was specifically mentioned in the hearing (haven’t read it yet), i doubt it.

      1. SGA spokesperson talks about video evidence at 10:41:07 which he supports but he is referring to police cameras only and he implies that the RSPB are vigilantes and that lowering the threshold of evidence for the police would encourage these vigilantes. In the second half the police totally demolished that argument.

        I was surprised that the claim that gamekeepers lose everything anyway when they are caught went unquestioned. Is there any evidence for this. The person who made the claim seemed to think that a gamekeeper lost his job and house etc. and was then unemployable when he was convicted.

        Also interesting that in the second group of witnesses organised crime is mentioned but only referring to dog fighting and puppy farms (and hinted at in first half regarding poaching). It would be brilliant if seriousness of organized wildlife crime was changed which encompassed raptor persecution (by accident or not).

        It was great to see all these topics discussed with such rationality. In that context the SGS spokesperson looked completely out of his depth and defensive. With a completely straight face he said that gamekeepers never receive instructions to break the law from their bosses.

        The second half had almost no mention of raptor persecution until 11.59.00 when video evidence was discussed. There was a mention by Police Scotland of an expected 3 year sentence being some kind of barrier to covert surveillance but that wasn’t very clear and the fiscal were also very unclear. Blimey even getting information out of the PF was like squeezing blood out of a stone. She (i think Sara Shaw) seemed to be very defensive and had no positive contribution throughout, none what so ever. Very strange. The second half left me with an impression that the whole exercise was just a time waster, sorry. They all agreed that information was the key but not one definite idea about how that could be achieved.
        The point made by the police that increasing the seriousness of wildlife crime could free up more police resources to investigate is good on paper but where are these resources going to come from when the police and PF are already stretched to breaking point.

        1. Listening to that clip again the second police Scotland officer at about 12.01.00 clarifies that it is Intrusive Covert Surveillance which needs an expected 3 year sentence.
          The fiscal answer to the admissibility of video evidence is at 12.03.20
          I am none the wiser.

  2. Lets not forget that the RSPB showed the way to catching these criminals through covert surveillance [including video evidence] repeatedly for several years before the block on accepting it in court by the Crown Office. The reforms should all be aimed at getting through that block…more powers for SSPCA is now the most important issue…without that, the raising to serious crime status will be an empty gesture..and I ask again, why do Police Scotland not support this, when they will be freeing resources to fight other types of crime?…At present they are only too willing to let SSPCA handle all other types of animal cruelty cases..

  3. Criminals are deterred by the risk of being caught and convicted. When that risk is low to non existent, as is currently the case, then a five years sentence is no more of a deterrent than five weeks.
    If changes are introduced that dramatically improve the conviction rate then a reduction in offending can be expected.
    If nothing is done to improve the conviction rate then increasing the maximum sentence will only amount to embroidery.

  4. As others have said, the weakest link in raptor persecution is the lack of having a reliable system of covert surveillance so that evidence can be obtained to put before a court. If that doesn’t exist then we are at stalemate. Having the SSPCA onboard gives that cutting edge tool to go after the criminals in the countryside. They have proven time and time again that they (SSPCA) are quite capable of this task given the remit to do so.

  5. In relation to getting evidence there have been cases where there is suitable evidence which has not been allowed to be heard in court. have submitted as part of my petition PE 1705 suggestions a to how the problem of lack of success in the getting the evidence by RSPB investigations and others may be heard. The first are included in my submission PE1705_B found at and are as follows:
    The additional changes to legislation are three proposed amendments to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (“LRA”):
    1. By adding a new sub-section 1(3)(d): “for the purposes of protecting natural or cultural heritage”; 2. By adding a new sub-section 1(5)(c): “gathering information or evidence for the purposes of protecting natural or cultural heritage”; and 3. By adding a new to sub-section (9)(h): “investigating and detecting crime except where a possible crime is detected while being on land which is a public place”.
    This unfortunately requires changes to existing legislation. I submitted a further submission to the ECCLR Committee on 19th September which does not require primary legislation, but only a change to a document issued by the Safer Communities Directorate as follows:
    I recommend that Section 3.30 of the Covert Surveillance Property Interference: Code of Practice (2017) is amended to add the following text at the end of the second sentence: “, nor does it prohibit members of the public from taking similar action as an immediate response to events if they advise the appropriate public authority without delay, who may take action as if they had made the response.” This recommendation is made: (a) to determine the extent to which authorisation is required to record a crime taking place as an immediate response; and (b) to clarify policy on the use of footage taken or recorded by a member of the public in connection with criminal activity.
    I do not know when the ECCLRC will consider the petition, which is on their list.

    1. Yes, that and the consistent failure to have the SSPCA involved. Both failures have common denominators – the governments involved !

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