Britain’s biggest animal welfare charity may hand over its role of prosecuting animal cruelty cases to the country’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said in a statement on Thursday that it’s considering the transfer of its role as prosecutor to concentrate on its frontline work where it can “make the most difference” by rescuing and looking after animals.
The RSPCA has campaigned for tougher sentences of up to five years in jail for animal abusers as part of its 10-year plan. It expects the increased sentences to come into force in England and Wales this year.
But in order to pursue longer sentences for animal abusers, cases of the worst cruelty will have to be heard in the crown court, as the CPS is likely better equipped to prosecute these kinds of cases, the charity said.
“We’re pleased that this year could see one of our hard-fought campaigns to raise the maximum penalty for animal abuse from six months to five years become reality,” the RSPCA’s Chief Executive Chris Sherwood said in a statement. “But this also means a big change in the way cases are prosecuted and sentenced.”
Prosecutions of this kind place “a huge responsibility on a charity’s shoulders,” he said. “We believe this responsibility should sit with the Crown Prosecution Service, which is a statutory public body with regulatory oversight.”
Not Stepping Back
Founded in 1824, the RSPCA has prosecuted animal cruelty cases for almost the entirety of its 197-year history.
The RSPCA said, however, that it’s not stepping back from prosecutions, and the move to hand over prosecutor responsibility to the CPS is a strategic one.
“Our inspectors would still be rescuing, investigating, and collecting evidence of cruelty and abuse and seeking to hand this over to the CPS,” Sherwood said.
“We believe that there may be a better way to ensure animals get the justice they deserve by bringing together our expertise in investigations with the CPS’ skills and resources.”
The prosecutor role will not be handed over until it is confirmed that the CPS has the “commitment, the resources, and the expertise” required, Sherwood said.
But, the RSPCA will still reserve the right to take a prosecution in the future if it felt that “justice is not being done for animals,” it said.
The RSPCA has come under the spotlight in recent years over its vocal stance against badger culling and for bringing private prosecution proceedings against fox hunters.
In 2014, it was the subject of an independent review (pdf) of its prosecutorial role by the former chief inspector to the CPS, Stephen Wooler, and in 2016 the charity indicated that it would likely no longer prosecute fox hunting cases.
The chair of the RSPCA’s board of trustees, René Olivieri, said that currently “people’s expectations of charities are changing and the sector has to work even harder to maintain and enhance trust in our vital work.”
“There is, rightly, real scrutiny of the work that charities do and this [role change] would bring us in line with other charities in the British Isles—no other charity is the principal prosecutor for a whole category of offenses, in our case, animal welfare,” she added.