OneKind is delighted that one of the 100 amendments to be debated in the Scottish Parliament next Tuesday reflects our calls to protect cephalopods and decapod crustaceans. #SeaTheirSuffering
The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill is set to make further progress at Stage 2 in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee next Tuesday (26 May). One hundred amendments have been lodged for the Committee to consider in just a couple of hours. It’s dry, it’s procedural, but it matters.
The Bill amends a raft of existing legislation, notably the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 – our main statute protecting domesticated animals from cruelty and neglect – and six different wildlife laws. The headline story is that of much higher penalties of up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine for offences against both domestic and wild animals. But the Bill also contains completely new measures allowing for the rapid re-homing of animals seized in welfare cases and a Scottish version of “Finn’s Law” ensuring that the law fully addresses attacks on police dogs and horses.
The Bill provides for fixed penalty notices for low level animal welfare offences and the Scottish Government has lodged amendments to ensure these are matched under animal health and wildlife legislation as well. It’s a very good sign that wild animal welfare is being placed on an equal footing with domestic animals, although it by no means solves the problem of wildlife persecution in our countryside.
OneKind has worked with MSPs to develop constructive amendments that will add value to a Bill that, while technical in nature, has potentially far-reaching effects. While we have always welcomed the Bill, we have also promoted a number of additions to strengthen its ability to protect Scotland’s animals.
And that, in our view, needs to include ALL animals. Despite our best efforts, cephalopods such as octopus, cuttlefish and squid and decapod crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs were omitted from the protection of the original 2006 Act. This means that it is still legal to boil lobsters alive and to kill octopus by turning them inside out, despite a considerable body of evidence showing that these animals are sentient.
We are delighted that Colin Smyth MSP has lodged an amendment to extend legal protection to these fascinating creatures and we hope it will secure a commitment from the Scottish Government to remedy this anomaly. Hundreds of OneKind supporters have written to the Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon MSP, in the last few months and we feel sure their message has been heeded. Even now, in the last few days before the debate, there is still time to check out ECCLR Committee members on social media and urge them to #SeaTheirSuffering.
We also strongly welcome amendments by Mark Ruskell MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP in support of more innovative approaches to offender sentencing, calling for intervention programmes focused on empathy and an adapted restorative justice approach. As Scottish sentencing policy prevents the use of short jail terms, it is essential that the courts have more options to address the root causes of cruelty to animals. Of course, prison needs to be available for the most serious offences, but it is far more constructive and sustainable to teach people to understand the sentience of animals and the importance of treating them humanely. OneKind has been spearheading calls for this approach, which is truly progressive and can do good for animals and people alike.
There has long been concern about the ease with which people who abuse or exploit animals can conceal a history of convictions and penalties, due to the lack of information sharing among the enforcement authorities. This was raised by Mike Radford, Reader in Law at the University of Aberdeen, when he gave evidence at Stage 1. Referring to the use of disqualification orders (when offenders are banned from keeping animals), he said:
“It is also important that there is a register of those orders. At the moment, there is no collective view of orders, so we do not know who is getting them, and we cannot look at the consistency between courts. It used to be said that people would know about disqualification orders because neighbours would know, and because they would be reported in the local press, which was full of court cases. Populations are much more mobile now, so neighbours probably will not know, and there is not a local press in the way that there used to be. As such, there is simply not an informed view of when disqualification orders are being imposed, what is being imposed and who gets them.”
OneKind also made this point in both written and oral evidence to the Committee, calling for a central register of convictions and fixed penalties. We are grateful to Colin Smyth for lodging an amendment providing for an information-sharing mechanism, and for ensuring that it can be accessed by Scottish SPCA Inspectors, who bring the majority of animal welfare cases. We hope that the Scottish Government and the Committee will support this amendment.
The 2006 Act requires the courts to consider disqualification after every conviction, but in practice, use of the power is not consistent. OneKind and many members of the public regularly call for longer, stricter bans, with automatic lifetime bans in the most serious cases.
Amendments lodged by Colin Smyth and Maurice Golden MSP now seek to achieve that consistency. Colin Smyth calls for automatic lifetime bans for offenders receiving maximum sentences, with regulations to make the order match the severity of the offence. Maurice Golden’s amendment extends the possibility of a lifetime ban to convictions under any of the legislation addressed by the Bill, including wildlife legislation, when the maximum sentence is imposed. However, the court is only required to consider a ban rather than imposing it automatically. Both MSPs want the court to be obliged to state its reasons for not imposing the relevant ban.
In practice, the Scottish courts very rarely impose maximum sentences, but these amendments do press home the need for consistency and, if nothing else, for courts and prosecutors to use existing powers more fully.
Other amendments of interest include one from Mark Ruskell to revise the functions of “wildlife inspectors” under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This is intended to correct the current, absurd situation where Scottish SPCA Inspectors – trained animal specialists with knowledge of wildlife management techniques and all the relevant legislation – gathering evidence and investigating wildlife crime scenes.
Still on the subject of wildlife crime, amendments by both Mark Ruskell and Claudia Beamish tackle the vexed question of vicarious liability for wildlife crimes. For too long, it has been possible for landowners and managers to avoid responsibility for illegal acts that they have explicitly or implicitly required their staff to carry out. Vicarious liability for offences against birds of prey was introduced in 2011 and the current Bill is the ideal opportunity to extend this.
And finally, Maurice Golden’s amendment 100 sweeps up a number of issues, calling on the Scottish Ministers to revisit animal welfare legislation as soon as possible, and to consider a new, specific offence of pet theft and a full ban on the use of electric shock collars. Since OneKind has been calling for a ban on these devices for the last two decades, we hope this proposal will be supported.
Well, that’s the tip of the Stage 2 amendment iceberg: the vast majority of the changes concern the details of those new powers for agencies to rehome animals and for owners to be compensated, if appropriate. OneKind hopes that the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill will emerge stronger and fitter from the process and will be passed before summer recess. Because when MSPs return in the autumn, we have plenty more issues to place on their agenda.
See the Scottish Parliament websitefor more details of the Bill and amendments.