As part of a pledge to improve animal welfare standards in Scotland, the Scottish Government introduced the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill in 2019 to increase the maximum penalties available for the most serious animal welfare offences. These amendments will see the current maximum penalties for offences of causing unnecessary suffering and animal fighting raised from a fine of up to £20,000 and 12 months in prison to an unlimited fine and up to 5 years imprisonment.
Despite the proposed changes to animal welfare legislation in Scotland, there is little publicly available information about the way in which this is currently used and the types of cases reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (PF) and prosecuted through the Scottish courts. No official crime statistics in Scotland are published at a level that would enable this to be established and it is difficult to determine the scope of and extent of penalties currently used. This makes evaluation of the legislation and future amendments more challenging. In addition, little is published about the individuals who commit such offences, making it difficult to develop evidence-based and cost effective methods of intervention and prevention.
One possible source of information to explore these issues is through administrative data from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) – Scotland’s largest animal welfare organisation. The Scottish SPCA are a specialist reporting agency to the PF in Scotland and trained staff within this organisation are given the role of inspectors as outlined in the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. The Scottish SPCA are a key stakeholder in matters of animal welfare and in particular where this involves the prosecution and prevention of animal abuse.
Despite the large amount of information that the Scottish SPCA collect, little use has thus far been made of this for research purposes. Yet, it is clear from research outside of Scotland, administrative data such as this could provide a rich source of information for extrapolating key findings on the prevalence and nature of animal welfare prosecutions in Scotland. This could be used to address some of the gaps in knowledge that presently exist in this area.
With this in mind, the Scottish SPCA and Scottish Government have worked together to produce this scoping report to establish what might be possible using administrative data collected by the Sottish SPCA.
The Scottish SPCA provided the Scottish Government with administrative data on charges reported to the PF with offence dates from 1 January 2011 up until 23 July 2019 (closed cases only). Only charges submitted to the PF by the Scottish SPCA were included in this data, meaning any charges submitted to the PF during this time from other agencies such as the Police and local authorities are not represented.
- The study included 1,543 charges reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (PF) by the Scottish SPCA, for animal welfare offences dated 1 January 2011 up until 23 July 2019. These charges came from 873 legal cases involving 1,065 unique persons.
- A case may involve multiple persons with multiple charges. Some of these cases may be incredibly complex with many persons and charges involved. Of the 873 cases, 399 (45.7%) involved more than one charge and 190 (21.8%) involved more than one person. However, less than 2% of cases involved more than five charges or more than two persons.
- Of the 1,065 persons, 30.1% of these had more than one charge from at least one of the cases for which they involved. At least 12 (1.1%) persons were involved in more than one case.
- The number of charges rose from 2011 up until 2013, where from 2014 the number declined again year on year. The reasons for this pattern need further investigation.
- The proportion of charges that led to a conviction varied by year of offence. The proportion of charges that led to a conviction was lowest for offences in 2015 (44.0%) and highest in 2013, where 68.0% of charges submitted to the PF led to a conviction.
- The most common charge type was those covered by Section 19 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) 2006 Act for unnecessary suffering (59.5%). This was followed by charges under Section 24 (18.5%) for failures to ensure the welfare of animals. Together, these made up 78% of all charges reported to the PF by the Scottish SPCA with offence dates from 2011 onwards.
- The most common type of offence was to omit to provide veterinary attention. This represented 29% of all charges. A further 20% of charges were for offences for omission of both veterinary attention and adequate nutrition, whilst 18.4% of offences were for failings to meet the needs of an animal. These three most common offence types made up over two-thirds of all charges (68.2%).
- Dogs were specified as at least one of the types of animals involved in 60.3% of all charges. Cats were listed in 10.1% of charges.
- For most offences under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) 2006 Act the most common animal type involved was dogs. However, for Section 29 offences (abandonment) more charges involved cats than dogs. This is a finding that might be interesting to explore further in future research.
- Overall, the median number of animals involved in a charge was one and most involved either one (55.9%) or two animals (17.6%). For Section 24 (failing to ensure welfare) and Section 29 (abandonment) from the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) 2006 Act, offences tended to involve more than one animal, with an average (median) of two animals involved.
- Over half (56.4%) of all charges resulted in a conviction. Accounting for only charges proceeded against (and excluding charges dealt with using fiscal measures), the conviction rate was 84.4%. Just over a fifth (21.7%) of all charges did not lead to proceedings and 11.4% resulted in PF measures. There was a verdict of not guilty for 7.1% of charges, the case was dropped for 2.3% and a small number received a verdict of not proven (0.8%).
- Of charges where a disposal is expected (guilty result in court or receiving a fiscal measure), the PF gave a warning in 12.2% of charges and a fine for 4.6%. Of charges with a guilty result in court only, nearly two-thirds (64.2%) received a disqualification order and 41.2% were given a fine. Just over a fifth (21.7%) of these received a community payback order (CPO).
- Many charges resulted in an outcome of more than one disposal type. The most common outcome for charges with a disposal was a disqualification order and a court fine (19.1%).
- The average (median) fine amount was £300 overall, or £360 for those given in court and £200 for those given by the PF. The average (median) length of a disqualification order was 60 months and the median custodial sentence was 8 months.
- The average (mean) age on offence date for all charges was 41.3 years, with 6.5% under 21 years.
- Over a third (37.8%) of charges were from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland, compared to just 5.3% from the 20% least deprived areas.
- Over half of all charges were from urban areas (59.1%), with the remaining charges from small towns (13.9%) or rural areas (27.0%).
- The highest frequency of charges came from South Lanarkshire (9.0%), Fife (8.2%) and Glasgow City (8.0%). As some of the larger local authorities this is perhaps not surprising, although the City of Edinburgh saw relatively fewer charges (3.8%), despite being the second most populated council area in Scotland.
Further specific recommendations were made directly to Scottish SPCA.