OneKind animal welfare charity has strongly welcomed Scottish Government plans to commission a research project into the value of empathy training for offenders against animals.
Ahead of the debate on the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers)(Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon (17 June 2020), rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon MSP has announced that the project will soon be put out to tender. The research is due to last for six months and will assess whether training could be incorporated in a community sentence for some offences.
Libby Anderson, OneKind Policy Adviser, said:
“OneKind is delighted that the Scottish Government has decided to commission this important research into justice for animals in Scotland. Most people accept that there is a positive bond between humans and animals, and yet harm and abuse still occur. We hope the research will establish that there are innovative ways of repairing that bond and promoting empathy for animals, such as restorative justice processes.”
OneKind first raised the value of empathy training when giving evidence to the Poustie review of wildlife crime penalties in 2014, and the suggestion became a recommendation in Professor Poustie’s report. MSPs including Claudia Beamish and Mark Ruskell have taken the issue forward in proposed amendments to the Bill. There are currently no existing animal-focused programmes in Scotland but OneKind Policy Officer Kirsty Jenkins has been carrying out research into models from overseas, and the potential for incorporating the restorative justice approach which helps people who have committed offences offer reparation for their actions.
The value of intervention programmes, such as the Scottish SPCA Animal Guardians programme, for children and young people starting to display offending behaviour towards animals is well recognised. There is also a considerable amount of training available for adults on developing empathy, all focussed on human-human interactions.
“It does not require a great stretch of the imagination to see how empathy programmes could be adapted help people develop their understanding of animals and change their behaviour. We are delighted that the Minister is taking forward research into these innovative approaches, which we believe could offer real protection for animals by promoting understanding and positive attitudes.”