This is a guest post by RSPCA Chief Executive, Jeremy Cooper
The UK prides itself as a nation of animal lovers, though the dog battered to death with a shovel, the cattle starved to death or the puppy kicked repeatedly down a flight of stairs, may disagree. Someone has to stand up for these animals.
I have had the privilege of being the Chief Executive of the RSPCA for just over eight months. During this time I have seen and learnt a lot about how amazing the organisation is, the professionalism of staff and how much impact the Society has on improving the welfare of animals. It is truly humbling.
Of course we have been doing this for 192 years so we have built up a huge body of expertise and experience. But that doesn’t mean we know everything, nor does it mean that just because we have always done something we should continue to do so in the future. I have a very open mind but if the evidence is overwhelming then I follow the evidence.
The world is changing – and so are we
One of the first issues facing me in April when I started was a parliamentary enquiry looking at how the Animal Welfare Act works and if it was fit for purpose. The enquiry was absolutely right to look at this issue – the Act is ten years old this month.
The world has changed enormously in this time – we now have Twitter, over half a million of our supporters communicate on our Facebook site and some of the welfare challenges we face, like Neknomination, didn’t exist in 2006. The RSPCA needs to change and we have. We have a position almost unique in the UK in investigating animal suffering, resolving issues with educating and support but where necessary, prosecuting.
The RSPCA was founded in 1824 by Richard Martin MP to enforce his own animal protection law agreed two years earlier by Parliament. Almost 200 years later the public still expect us to get justice for animals. In a recent poll 89 percent of the public backed our prosecutions work. Other leading animal welfare charities and veterinary groups support our prosecutions and statutory agencies such as the police and local authorities assist us. Not only is this a huge undertaking, we know this is also a big responsibility.
That’s why we commissioned an internal review of our prosecutions work – to see what we were doing well, what we could change and how we could keep pace with the fast changing world.
We’ve taken recommendations on board
We have implemented over half the recommendations of the independent review looking at how we undertake this work. We have responded to the new transparency and instant access to information that society now demands by setting up an independent complaints procedure and an audit committee to look at the way we prosecute and give annual recommendations back on how this can be improved. We had seen a drop in prosecutions by over 40 percent in the past three years as the educational message seems to be getting through to owners.
So when I went in front of the parliamentary Committee to give them the evidence that the Act was working, and to show them how we were constantly improving the way we undertake our unique investigatory and prosecution work, I hoped that they would listen, challenge but respect the evidence.
High-level support for our work
I was also delighted to see support for our investigatory and prosecution work we do from local authorities, vets, legal experts and the police as well as my fellow leaders from other charities. And most importantly from the Government whose minister, George Eustice, said that the prosecution and investigatory model is “a model that we have had for a very long time, over 100 years, and the RSPCA do some fantastic work”.
The Committee released their report this week and chose to ignore all of this evidence, recommending instead the RSPCA alone of all organisations or individuals in this country should stop taking private prosecutions and hand our evidence over to the CPS to prosecute. But only if the government also funded the CPS to do this.
I am baffled by this recommendation. The RSPCA has a success rate of 92 percent – higher than the CPS and our prosecutions are paid for by public donations rather than taxes. What benefit could there be to passing over the role and cost of prosecuting to the CPS which will quite rightly need to prioritise human victims of crime. I don’t believe the Government has the money or indeed the desire to do this. Indeed they have said as such.
Animal welfare will remain our priority
We don’t have a right to investigate and prosecute but we do have a responsibility to ensure that any animal is treated humanely and its welfare needs met.
So I will consider one simple question.
Will animal welfare be improved by accepting the Committee’s recommendation for us to stop prosecuting?
I believe not and so I am reassuring our half a million supporters, the 89 percent of the public that think we should be doing this, the 1.2 million people that call our cruelty line every year, that we will continue our long history of prosecuting animal welfare offences in furtherance of our charitable purposes, despite the calls to the contrary by a very small number of MPs.
The animals would expect no less.