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RSPCA retains prosecution powers despite parliamentary criticism

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is to keep its powers to prosecute in animal welfare cases despite a parliamentary committee calling for these to be removed.

Ministers ruled out the change in the government’s response to the commons environment, food and rural affairs committee’s report last year on animal welfare.

RSPCA chief executive Jeremy Cooper said: “We are extremely pleased that the Government continues to recognise the exceptional role carried out by the RSPCA in investigating and prosecuting those accused of the worst cases of animal cruelty and neglect.

“The society has a proud history of nearly 200 years investigating and prosecuting animal welfare offences.  

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“We know that the public overwhelmingly wants us to undertake this role, and we welcome the support we have to carry out our prosecutions work from vets, local authorities and other animal welfare organisations.”

The committee had argued that the RSPCA should become a specialist reporting agency to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Its report said: “The committee does not believe that the current model in England and Wales where the RSPCA brings private prosecutions alongside its investigative, campaigning and fundraising functions provides the necessary separation to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

“The committee recommends that the RSPCA should…withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of  first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role.”

But the government response said that were the CPS to take on all RSPCA cases, “further consideration would need to be given to resource” and that the RSPCA “should be given the opportunity to implement the recommendations of the [2014] Wooler Review and demonstrate its commitment to responding to the concerns that have been raised by the committee”, before any change in its status was considered.

The government also rejected the committee’s call for a national inspectorate to liaise with and support local authorities in enforcing the licensing regime for animals, undertaking inspections and dealing with complaints.

“Government considers that the principal regulatory entity should remain as the local authority,” the response said. “We consider the creation of a national inspectorate could be confusing for those regulated and may cut across the established licensing system, and this might not support our welfare objectives.”

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