Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Self Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Other Experiencing Difficulties with the RSPCA

  Newly Received RSPCA Prosecution and Conviction Figures, Obtained via Mr Charles Hendry MP, reveal that:

    (a)  the number of Defendants who appeal Magistrates' convictions is more than 26 times greater in RSPCA prosecutions than those progressed by the CPS; and

    (b)  the number of subsequent successful appeals at Crown Court is well over two times greater in RSPCA prosecutions than those progressed by the CPS.

  These figures cause great concern, and their implications, in terms of financial costs, waste of human resources, court time and human misery, are appalling. It is a great pity that the RSPCA refused to make these figures public years ago so that the position could have been corrected.

  Each case over and above the CPS norm absorbs court time and resources that are at a premium. It ties up members of the legal profession and expert witnesses, both defence and prosecution, all of whom have to be paid for, ultimately from public funds, whether via the legal aid budget, wasted RSPCA donations, awards from central funds or those few individuals who go so far as to sell their houses and everything they own to fund their defence.

  A comparison of conviction and acquittal figures in RSPCA and CPS prosecutions

  (See Sheet entitled "Source of Figures" for the sources of figures etc)

  Magistrates' Court's Conviction and Acquittal Rates plus Crown Court appeal data

   (The otherwise "CPS Norm" shown in bold and in brackets)

  At Magistrates' Courts:  RSPCA Cases (CPS Norm)

  ALL Defendants:  Found or pleaded Guilty Acquitted

96.44%   (98.37%)  4.24%   (1.63%)

  (Source: Home Office Lord Chancellor's Department Crown Prosecution Service: http://www.cjsonline.org/library/pdf/cjbqrq201.pdf)

  Pleaded:  Guilty  Not Guilty

83.94%   (90%)  16.06%   (10%)

  (Predicted figures; Source: The University of Warwick)

  Found:

Guilty  Acquitted

77.85%   (NR)  22.15%  (NR)

  ***Still searching for relevant data

  At Crown Court  Appealed Magistrates' Court conviction

26.72%   (1.00%)  

   (Source: Review of the Criminal Courts of England and Wales)

(1.46%)

   (Home Office: Lord Chancellor's Department Crown Prosecution Service)

Acquitted  Dismissed

54.84%   (22%)  45.16% (78%)

  (Source: Home Office Lord Chancellor's Department Crown Prosecution Service)

(30%)  (70%)

 (Source: Review of the Criminal Courts of England and Wales)

Observations and Question re the above:

    (a)  Observation:

(i)  The percentages of those who pleaded or were found guilty in the Magistrates' Courts in RSPCA prosecutions tend to be similar to the figures in CPS prosecutions.

    (b)  Observation:

(i)  The percentages of those who pleaded not guilty at the Magistrates Courts in RSPCA prosecutions who were found guilty and thence went to appeal is a MASSIVE 26 TIMES GREATER (upon a percentage basis) than in the case of CPS prosecutions.

Question:

    1.      Given that many of such defendants were legally represented, why, contrary to the norm, did so many of their solicitors/barristers advise appealing?

        More particularly, do these appeals evidence:

        (a)            that (contrary to their assertions regarding their ability) the RSPCA's evidence is far less "safe" than that in a prosecution progressed by the CPS? ; or

        (b)            that the manner in which the evidence was obtained did not follow proper process (ie the Law of Evidence)?; or

        (c)            there was some other abuse of process?; or

        (d)            that the magistrates are too used to the high standards set by the CPS and assume that an RSPCA prosecution will be to the same professional standard?; or

        (e)            that the magistrates are not sufficiently robust in their considerations when abuse of process arguments are made in RSPCA cases: perhaps because they are accustomed to the higher standards normally provided them by the CPS?; or

        (f)            that the magistrates, like all members of the public, are influenced by the vast RSPCA advertising and publicity campaigns?; or

        (g)            that the magistrates are influenced by the RSPCA "writing articles in the Magistrates' own journals and attending their seminars and briefing them on their responsibilities" (Quote from Peter Davis, Director General of the RSPCA 1996)?

    (c)  Observation:

(i)  The percentage of successful appeals in RSPCA prosecutions is well over TWICE as large than that which is achieved in CPS prosecutions.

Question:

    1.      Why are the judgments made by Magistrates in RSPCA prosecutions so blatantly less safe than those wherein they judge prosecutions progressed by the CPS?

        Is it that:

        (a)            the Crown Court Judges are generally less harsh that the Magistrates? or

        (b)            that the CPS are far more diligent in their obtaining and evaluation of evidence, combining this with due reverence to the proper process of law?; or

        (c)            Crown Court Judges pay greater attention to (a) the law; (b) the Police and Criminal Evidence Act; (c) the Laws of Evidence; or (d) the required quantum of proof?

    (c)  Observation:

(i)  Given the highly questionable position evidenced by the figures above, why has seemingly little been done to investigate the way and manner in which RSPCA prosecutions are both brought and progressed.

(ii)  Question:

    1.      Who is it that (as with the CPS relative to Police investigations and prosecutions) oversees, monitors (and possibly reprimands) the RSPCA regarding their role as prosecutors ?

    2.      Whatever the reasons are for (a) the huge percentage of defendants appealing and (b) the high percentage of successful appeals, both figures palpably evidence that there is something amiss in the way that either (a) the RSPCA progress prosecutions and/or (b) the manner in which these prosecutions are adjudicated by the Magistrates. Put simply, there is most definitely something wrong—the result being that there are many defendants who, having either having pleaded guilty of having been found so to be, are the subjects for miscarriages of justice.

    3.      The new Animal Welfare Bill, combined with the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 2000, exacerbates this position; firstly by granting even greater and more heinous powers to a charity whose manner and operandi in progressing prosecutions must, if only by virtue of the figures above, be questionable; and secondly by stripping defendants, by Statute, of so many Human Rights. The result might be seen by some as a "dictatorship" in ruthless pursuit of the defenceless and his assets; and in circumstances wherein there is no "United Nations" to guard the defenceless from what is tantamount to an overwhelming power of state.

    4.      Given the above figures, it is hardly surprising that the RSPCA wish to have a 51 week prison term as a maximum; thereby securing prosecutions to the "summary" route and thus retaining the "comfort" of the Magistrates. The Animal Welfare Bill seemingly deliberately seeks to maximize potential sentence without compromising the "benefits" of prosecuting within the Magistrates' Courts.

Public Policy Implications—A further analysis of the figures by Colin J Vogel BVetMed MRCVS, MCIArb

  Detailed figures have for the first time become available for the private prosecutions brought by the RSPCA. It is therefore possible to compare those figures with the figures for other criminal charges brought before the Magistrates Courts by the CPS.

  Fewer defendants plead guilty in RSPCA cases (83.94% compared with 90% in CPS cases). This may be because they find it harder to accept their guilt, but it may be because they are not guilty. Their confidence in their innocence means that 26.72% appeal to the Crown Court compared with 1-1.4% (depending on the source) of CPS prosecutions. What is significant is that in over half those appeals the Crown Court agreed with them and allowed the appeal. It must be of concern that the percentage of successful appeals against RSPCA prosecutions is so much greater that that against CPS prosecutions (54.84% v 22 30%). Any system that accepts that over 50% of decisions can be wrong must be investigated.

  There is one possibility that would explain these discrepancies, and that is that the RSPCA prosecutors do not apply the same criteria as the CPS when deciding whether to prosecute or not. That would explain not only why the defendants are prepared to put themselves through the stress of an appeal (and the adverse personal publicity attracted by RSPCA cases is often greater than in CPS cases), but also why their legal representatives are able to advise the LSC that there are good grounds for such an appeal. It is significant that those legal representatives are normally dealing with CPS cases and would judge the RSPCA cases by the same criteria.

  It may be possible to get an indication of where the RSPCA is being over zealous. As both the Magistrates Court and the Crown Court hear basically the same evidence, it would appear to be in respect of the weight which should legally be given to that evidence, or the legality by which it is obtained, that the Crown Courts disagree with the Magistrates. The CPS experience is able to prevent this, hence the huge discrepancy (26.72% v 1-1.4%) in the number of appeals brought before the Crown Court.

  It is also appropriate to consider the costs of these prosecutions to the state. The cost of a contested trial in the magistrates Court is significantly greater than an uncontested trial. By their very nature, especially their involvement of expert witnesses, RSPCA cases take about three times as long as the average CPS contested trial in the Magistrates Court. However then 26 times as many defendants will justifiably appeal in RSPCA cases as would do in CPS cases, incurring even greater costs. The right of the defendants to do so cannot be disputed when such an unacceptably high percentage of convictions (54,84%) are subsequently overturned.

  A requirement for the RSPCA to obtain CPS approval or support before launching a prosecution would lean to an increase in the CPS costs, but on these RSPCA figures it would save many times that amount in Court costs, and Court time. The draft Animal Welfare Bill is likely to increase the number of prosecutions; that is why the RSPCA has been campaigning for such a Bill.

  It follows that it will increase the waste of public funds on Court costs unless this problem is resolved.

  A simpler and more cost effective solution would be to make these offences triable "either way". That would mean that the longer (and they can last 10 or more days) contested trials would go straight to the Crown Court. They would only need to be heard once, and both evidential and legal aspects would be dealt with together.

   (Source of figures: Figures in bold are those supplied to a Member of Parliament by J Ballard, RSPCA. Figures not in bold are by computation unless their source is otherwise stated)
(B)Total Number of prosecutions 708
(C)Total Number of Convictions 1,829
(D)Total Number of Defendants 928
(E)Number of Defendants who pleaded Not Guilty 149 being16.08% of the Total number of Defendants
(1)  Number of Defendants who pleaded Guilty

779 being83.94% of the Total number of Defendants
(F)Number of Defendants who pleaded Not Guilty and found Not Guilty 33 being22.15% of the number of Defendants who pleaded Not Guilty
(1)  Number of Defendants who pleaded Not Guilty but found Guilty 116 being77.85% of the number of Defendants who pleaded Not Guilty
(a)  Number of Defendants who appealed 31 being26.72% of the number who pleaded Not Guilty but found Guilty
     (i)  Number of successful appeals 17 being54.84% of the number of Defendants who appealed.
    (ii)  Number of unsuccessful appeals 14 being45.16% of those Defendants who appealed.
(G)Conviction and Acquittal Rates
(1)  For ALL Defendants: Pleaded/Found GuiltyAcquitted
(a) Magistrates%96.44 4.24%
(2)  For those Defendants who pleaded Not guilty. ConvictedAcquitted
(a) Magistrates'77.85% 22.15%
(b) Crown Court45.16% 54.84%

(3)

(H) Observations

    (1)  A Defendant is almost twice (1.72) as likely to be convicted in the Magistrates' Court as opposed to the Crown Court.

    (2)  A Defendant is over twice (2.48) as likely to be acquitted in Crown Court as opposed to the Magistrates' Court.

  Other relevant information:

    (3)  "Few of those convicted and sentenced in the magistrates' courts take the matter to appeal, even by way of rehearing as of right in the Crown Court. In 2000, there were nearly 14,000 appeals against conviction and/or sentence to the Crown Court, 125 appeals by way of case stated to the Divisional Court and 336 claims of judicial review in criminal cases to the Divisional Court. Expressed in percentage terms, less than 1% of magistrates' courts' decisions are appealed. By any standards, those are very low levels of appeal." (Source: Review of the Criminal Courts of England and Wales—http://www.criminal-courts-review.org.uk/ccr-12.htm)

    (4)  The main avenue of appeal from the Crown Court as a court of first instance is to the Court of Appeal. Between April 2000 and March 2001, there were 2,029 applications for leave to appeal against conviction, of which 430 were granted leave, and 5,545 applications for leave to appeal against sentence, of which 1,426 went to appeal. The percentage rates of success on appeal were 30% for conviction appeals and nearly 68% for sentence appeals. (Source: Review of the Criminal Courts of England and Wales—http://www.criminal-courts-review.org.uk/ccr-12.htm)

    (5)  The Home Office's "Flows and Costs Model" predicts that 90% of defendants restricted to magistrates' courts in future will plead guilty and only 10% not guilty. Conviction rates at magistrates' courts suggest that only one in three of this 10% will be acquitted. This means of the 12-14,000 defendants likely to be affected, around 3%, (400¸500) will be cleared at magistrates' courts, compared with the 3120-3640 currently acquitted or cleared at Crown Court. (Source: The University of Warwick: http://newsevents.bit10.net/index.cfm?page=pressrelease&id=431)

Figures compiled by David Arthur

October 2004





 
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Prepared 9 December 2004