Report of the Review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002

A report with recommendations to improve the operation of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.

4. Policing the Act

Police Resources
4.1 Prior to the amalgamation of Scotland's eight police forces and the creation of Police Scotland, each force had a designated wildlife crime co-ordinator. When originally created, Police Scotland consisted of 14 territorial divisions. In keeping with their emphasis on local policing as key to the structure and strategy of the Force, each of these divisions had a wildlife crime liaison officer. Although the number of divisions has since been reduced to 13, the number of liaison officers remains at 14; six are full-time while eight are part-time. These officers liaise with persons in the area involved in wildlife management and control, including farmers, gamekeepers and hunt participants. Each liaison officer reports ultimately to the local policing commander.

4.2 There are also two officers within the specialist crime division with oversight and co-ordination responsibilities. A national "portfolio lead" at Chief Superintendent level maintains oversight of strategic developments and requirements relating to wildlife crime, while a full-time national co-ordinator at Sergeant level is tasked with enhancing standardisation of policies, procedures and training across the country to ensure a consistent provision to the communities of Scotland. The appointment of a senior officer and the placing of national co-ordination in the specialist crime division reflect the recognition by Police Scotland of the serious impact wildlife crime can have on Scotland's valuable natural heritage.

4.3 The National Wildlife Crime Unit provides a specialist service to all police forces in the United Kingdom. The Chief Inspector who heads it spends two days each week in Scotland. There he is supported full-time by a seconded Police Scotland officer. The Unit gathers and analyses intelligence relating to wildlife crime for the whole of the United Kingdom. It also provides investigative support to forces, including on technical wildlife issues.

4.4 In addition to the above, the liaison officers are supported by over 90 part-time wildlife crime officers who undertake many local operational enquiries in addition to their core role. More recently a "lead" responsibility for delivery of wildlife police services within each of the policing divisions has been identified at Superintendent or Chief Inspector level. The overall aim is to ensure the better detection and reporting of criminal activity as well as to maximise the opportunity to engage with the local community and build effective related partnerships. Police Scotland, particularly through the national co-ordinator, work closely with the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit.

4.5 The allocation of police resources has not been the subject of adverse comment to the Review.

COPFS Resources
4.6 The Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit deals with prosecution of a wide range of wildlife offences including contraventions of the 2002 Act. It is overseen by the assistant procurator fiscal for specialist casework in Crown Office. The Unit consists of four procurators fiscal. Their time is fully committed to the work of the Unit. That is on the face of it reasonable provision and has not been the subject of any criticism raised in the course of the Review.

Partnership For Action Against Wildlife Crime In Scotland ( PAWS)
4.7 Police Scotland and COPFS are also constituent parts of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland ( PAWS) [18] which includes wildlife and animal welfare charities, land management organisations and Government agencies, all working together to fight wildlife crime. An Executive Group, comprising representatives of selected members, oversees the work of PAWS. However a wider Plenary Group, made up of representatives of all member organisations, meets once a year to give an opportunity to all members to comment on PAWS projects and raise any wildlife crime issues. The operation of the Act has not been raised as a topic in this forum. The Scottish Government Wildlife Crime in Scotland Annual Report for 2014 [19] provides more information about the constituent parts of PAWS.

Reports and Proceedings under the Act
4.8 That Report also provides statistics for wildlife crime recorded by the police between 2009 and 2014 (see Appendix 3, Table 1) and for cases prosecuted during the same period (see Appendix 3, Table 2). In the five years between 2009 and 2014 the annual figure for wildlife crimes of all kinds reported to the police varied between 255 and 355. In respect of section 1 of the Act, principally recorded under the heading "Hunting with dogs" in the table, the total has varied little - between 29 and 37. There may also be some case involving dogs recorded under a different heading, e.g. cruelty to wild animals. Although it is not possible from these tables to identify the particular mammals involved, Police Scotland advise that in the vast majority of cases, the mammal involved was the brown hare.

4.9 Over that period of five years a total of 44 cases were prosecuted. The report records the conviction rate as 50%, the lowest for any category of wildlife crime. COPFS records show that between 2002 and June 2016 there have been 156 reports to COPFS of contraventions of the Act. Many of the cases have involved more than one accused. No proceedings were taken in some and in others proceedings were discontinued. There were three prosecutions, but no convictions, in cases involving badgers, a handful of cases, including convictions, relating to deer, and slightly more involving fox-hunting. The vast majority were in respect of hares. The overall conviction rate is similar to that recorded for the period 2009-2014.

4.10 The position in relation to fox-hunting from the commencement of the Act is set out at Appendix 3, Table 3, which lists all cases involving fox-hunting allegations reported to COPFS between 2002 and 2014.

4.11 In the course of the Review it was possible to update these figures. To date there have been 14 cases (including one pending) involving allegations of fox-hunting against 22 persons.

4.12 Of the 14 cases, eight involved non-mounted hunting: no action was taken in two cases; three trials resulted in conviction; and in the other three cases there were guilty pleas. In the 2007-2008 case one accused pled guilty to a charge under the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 and pleas of not guilty to a charge under the 2002 Act were accepted from him and a co-accused. The Crown papers indicate that the majority of the non-mounted cases were in urban areas.

4.13 Of the six cases involving mounted fox-hunting, proceedings were taken in only two. The accused were acquitted in both. The 2002-2003 case is the case in which the Sheriff issued a written judgment, reported as Fraser v Adams 2005 SCCR 54 [20] and referred to in chapter 5. The case in 2013-2014 included charges under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 [21] as well as contravention of section 1(1) of the 2002 Act. It related to the release of a fox from a bag to waiting hounds. There was insufficient evidence of identification. The pending case involves an allegation against two accused in respect of the activities of an organised mounted hunt in 2016. It is the only case reported to the Crown since 2014.

4.14 The 2015 Report will show that in 2014-2015 six cases of contraventions of the Act were reported to COPFS, all relating to hare coursing. The outcomes were as follows:

  • no action was taken in two;
  • two cases were discontinued after proceedings were raised;
  • two cases resulted in convictions, both accused being fined.

A seventh case involving a hare contained a poaching charge. It was conjoined with 2002 Act charges reported in 2013-2014 and resulted in a conviction and fine. Five cases reported in 2014-2015 fell into the "Deer (S) Offences" category for record purposes. Two involved dogs attacking deer. One included a charge under section 17(3) of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 but was prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act. In the other, which was reported under section 17(1), there was insufficient evidence for prosecution.

England and Wales
4.15 Accurate statistical information for England and Wales is difficult to obtain because prosecutions in England and Wales are conducted by a variety of bodies. Only a small proportion have to date been conducted by the Crown Prosecution Service. A high proportion were until recently conducted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [22], [23]. Other animal welfare organisations such as the League against Cruel Sports also conduct prosecutions. In the end it appears that there have been proportionately no more prosecutions in England and Wales than in Scotland, bearing in mind that there are 17 times as many organised hunts in England and Wales. The best information made available to the Review is that compiled by the Scottish Countryside Alliance from records of the Ministry of Justice showing the numbers proceeded against and found guilty. The figures outwith brackets in Appendix 3, Table 4 relate to persons involved in activities associated with organised Hunts. The figures in brackets are the overall total of prosecutions and convictions.

4.16 The statistics suggest that the Act enables prosecution of offences relating to hares. When there is sufficient evidence, coursing appears to be prosecuted. There is nothing before the Review to suggest that the exceptions under which hares could be shot or taken by a bird of prey are relied on as cover for illegal coursing. In the case of badgers and deer, prosecution is generally brought under different legislation which applies specifically to that wild mammal. The fact that there have been so few cases under the 2002 Act in relation to these wild mammals appears to be of no significance.

4.17 However, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of the Act in relation to foxes on the basis of the statistics alone. Some tentative conclusions can be drawn. "Non-mounted" cases arise in urban settings and can involve cruelty for the sake of personal gratification. In relation to "mounted" cases a number of submissions have relied upon the fact that no one has been convicted in the 14 years of the operation of the Act as proof that no illegal hunting has taken place. Standing the very small number of reports to the police and prosecutions, and having regard to the material submitted to the Review on the basis of which the contrary is claimed, it would be premature to accept that point of view on the basis of the figures alone. Various matters have to be addressed further. Although the Police Scotland portfolio lead on wildlife crime, Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, did say, in answer to a question posed by a member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee at their meeting on 13 January 2016 [24] , that there is no evidence to suggest that the mounted fox hunts that exist are acting outwith the legislation that is in place at the moment, that answer should not be regarded as a statement that Police Scotland consider that the Act works effectively to provide adequate protection for foxes.


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