Introduction to this website

Update on 14th November 2018

I had a letter from the Scottish government yesterday which said that the Poustie recommendations needed consultation as well as legislation being drawn up.  It was listed to be legislated in the 2017/18 year but now only the consultation will take place in 2018/19. If it had been made legislation last year my petition could not have been successful for a long time, so I’m reasonably content, but others may not be so happy.

Update on 7th November 2018

The petition will not be considered this week and likely not until replies have been heard from interested parties who will have been approached about whether they wish to make a submission. If you are interested please contact me or direct to the petitions office.

I have now started to write my own submission, but am concerned about some of the content I may decide to include, which may be deemed unwarranted or worse. My consideration is here on this website.

Update on 2nd November 2018

The minutes of the meeting and the official report have now been published. There is the most useful information in then official report, and I append below the extract about this petition, which is more detailed than I was able to follow from the broadcast. I am extremely encouraged by the content.

“Wildlife Crime (Penalties and Investigation) (PE1705)
The Convener (Johann Lamont):
I welcome everyone to the 15th meeting in 2018 of the Public Petitions Committee. The first item on our agenda is consideration of new petitions.

The first petition is PE1705, by Alex Milne. Members have a copy of the petition and the briefing prepared by the Scottish Parliament information centre and the clerks. The petition calls for a review of the penalties that are available for incidents of wildlife crime and the methods by which wildlife crime is investigated. The petitioner considers that by increasing the minimum punishment to three years in prison, a crime would be categorised as serious, which in turn would allow investigating authorities to use covert video surveillance. The issue of wildlife crime has previously been considered by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP):
I am a member of the ECCLR Committee, which has followed the issue extremely closely over the past few years. I have a lot of sympathy for the petition.

Given that there does not seem to have been much movement on the Scottish Government’s side with regard to Professor Poustie’s recommendation to increase penalties, the petition is quite timely. We need to know where the Scottish Government is with regard to its proposed consultation and the introduction of primary legislation. If there is to be primary legislation, time is running out in this parliamentary session. It would therefore be good to have some clarity on that.

The Convener:
We agree to write to the Scottish Government to seek its views on the action called for in the petition and on Angus MacDonald’s point about timescales. A general nod in the direction of the issue would not be sufficient; we would want something more specific.

Angus MacDonald:
Indeed.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con):
Angus MacDonald mentioned the ECCLR Committee. Perhaps we should flag up the petition with that committee in advance of scrutiny of the 2017 annual report on wildlife crime in Scotland.

Angus MacDonald:
The committee is due to look at the wildlife crime report in January, so the sooner that it is made aware of this petition the better.

The Convener:
Are there any other suggestions?

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con):
Can we seek the views of other stakeholders? I am not sure who would that be.

The Convener:
That is an important idea. We can ask the clerks to look at which might be the best groups. Obviously, people who are closely involved with this issue in the ECCLR Committee might have views and suggestions. We know from coverage yesterday on social media that there has been further commentary on cruelty to animals and protection of wildlife. The committee has dealt previously with this theme in relation to mountain hares and other creatures. It is something that there is a lot of interest in.

We agree to write to the Scottish Government, to take the views of other stakeholders and to flag the petition up to the ECCLR Committee. Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener:
We thank the petitioner for their timely petition.”

Update on 25th October 2018

I viewed and recorded the meeting of the Public Petitions Committee in the morning but had not tested the method. The sound was almost illegible at times. It was clear however that the petition was well received, described as timely and noted that the Scottish Government has not made much apparent movement on this.

Here are the few extracts I was able to decipher:

Angus MacDonald MSP

… for the last few years have been following this extremely closely…I think that given there does not seem to have been much apparent movement on the Scottish government side with regard to…. Professor Poustie… penalties… this petition is quite timely so….introducing primary legislation in this session.. time is running out in this session… so we need to get some clarity on that.

Rachael Hamilton MSP

we should perhaps flag it up with the committee that we are looking at this in advance of looking at in advance of … the Wildlife Crime Report Scotland..

Angus MacDonald MSP

I think the committee is due to look at the Wildlife crime report in January so they sooner they are made aware of this petition the better.

Brian Whittle MSP

if there are other stakeholders we can take the views of… I’m not quite sure who that could be…

Johann Lamont MSP

The clerks could have a look at who might be the best… who might have a suggestion on that…I think it is something there is a lot of interest in … the Scottish government to take the views of our stakeholder…but particularly to flag up to the EECLRC committee that this is a petition that has been submitted to us…..to thank the petitioner again for a petition which is timely.

Update on 24th October 2018

The televised committee meeting tomorrow at 0915 will not take evidence from me, but the Agenda includes this about my petition. I won’t attend, but will watch. The Clerk note seems fair enough, and can be seen in full on the petitions committee website complete with the necessary links. My hope at present is that it will not fail at this stage and some of the actions listed by the Clerk will be adopted :

PE1705: Wildlife crime – penalties and investigation
Note by the Clerk
Petitioner Alex Milne
Petition
summary
Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review legislation relating to the investigation of and penalties applicable to wildlife crime in Scotland.
Webpage parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01705
Introduction
1. This is a new petition that collected 365 signatures and 104 comments in support.
Background
2. Wildlife crime is defined by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAW Scotland) (PAW Scotland consists of a variety of organisations including the police, land managers, NGOs and the Scottish Government. Its aim is to address wildlife persecution and habitat destruction.) as “any unlawful act or omission, which affects any wild creature, plant or habitat, in Scotland”. This can range from targeted
persecution of rare species and habitats for financial gain to unnecessary cruelty against common species for sport. A list of offence categories considered to constitute wildlife crime can be found in the Appendix of the most recent Scottish Government Report on Wildlife Crime in Scotland.
3. In 2015-16, there were 261 recorded wildlife offences. This included (amongst
other categories) offences relating to badgers, birds, cruelty to wild animals and
fish poaching.
Current penalties for wildlife crimes
4. The maximum penalties for many of the principal offences, for example those
set out in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, are a £5,000 fine and/or up to
six months imprisonment on summary conviction (i.e. by a sheriff sitting alone)
with no option of conviction on indictment (i.e. by a sheriff or judge sitting with a
jury) although there have been penalty increases for newer offences and for
offences involving certain species.
Investigation of wildlife crime
5. Each Police Scotland division has a Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer. Section 19(2)
of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1982 gives a specific power to constables to
enter premises other than a dwelling if the constable has reasonable cause to
suspect that any person is committing or has committed an offence under Part I
of the Act.
6. The police have statutory powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers
(Scotland) Act 2000 and the Police Act 1997 under which they may, when
certain conditions are met, be authorised to undertake covert surveillance.
Scottish Ministers, or the senior authorising officer or designated deputy may
only authorise intrusive surveillance if they believe it meets certain conditions
including, for example, to prevent or detect serious crime. The tests for a
serious crime are set out in section 31(7) of the Regulation of Investigatory
Powers Act 2000 and section 93 of the Police Act 1997—
“(a) that the offence or one of the offences that is or would be constituted by
the conduct is an offence for which a person who has attained the age of
twenty-one and has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to
be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more;
(b) that the conduct involves the use of violence, results in substantial
financial gain or is conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a
common purpose.”
7. The impact of these restrictions (in addition to those imposed by common law)
has been the subject of debate with relation to the admissibility of covert
camera evidence in wildlife crime cases, such as alleged persecution of birds of
prey, both in relation to the ability of the police to detect wildlife crime, and the
admissibility of camera evidence obtained by NGOs.
8. The petitioner in this case suggest that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
should be amended to include a presumption that for any offence under Part 1
of the Act, photographic, audio recording or video evidence should be
admissible. The petition also calls for maximum penalties for wildlife crimes to
be increased to three years to enable them to be treated as ‘serious crimes’ for
the purposes of enabling the gathering and use of evidence.
Scottish Government Action
9. The Scottish Government established a Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group
in 2013 (the Poustie Review) with a remit—
“To examine and report on how wildlife crime in Scotland is dealt with by the
criminal courts, with particular reference to the range of penalties available
and whether these are sufficient for the purposes of deterrence and whether
they are commensurate with the damage to ecosystems that may be caused
by wildlife crime.”
10. The Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group Report was published in 2015. The
Group focused its work on the priority areas identified by the Government –
persecution, badger persecution, illegal trade in endangered species,
freshwater pearl mussels, poaching and raptor persecution.
11. The report includes ten recommendations including increasing maximum
penalties available on summary conviction, at least for the more serious
offences, to at least a £40,000 fine and up to 12 months imprisonment, and
making conviction on indictment more commonly available across the range of
wildlife offences with a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years.
12. The Scottish Government responded to the report in a letter from the Minister
for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in February 2016, and in
relation to the recommendation on penalties stated—
“This issue is clearly at the heart of the issue of penalties for wildlife crime and
we agree with the conclusions in the Report. We will produce a list of the
offences to which we think the recommendation should apply and look to take
this forward in a suitable legislative vehicle in the next Parliament.”
13. The Scottish Government’s 2017-18 Programme for Government stated that
they will progress “Professor Poustie’s recommendations to increase penalties
for wildlife crime”.
Scottish Parliament action
14. PE1615: State regulated licensing system for gamebird hunting in Scotland
(lodged 22 August 2016) calls for the introduction of a licensing system for
gamebird hunting and for the recommendations of the Poustie Review to be
implemented.
15. The Committee took evidence from the petitioner at its meeting on 27 October
2016 and, after hearing further evidence from stakeholders at its meeting on 8
December 2016, agreed to refer the petition to the Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee.
16. The ECCLR took written and oral evidence from the petitioner and stakeholders
in 2017 which focused on the call for a licensing system for gamebird shooting.
The Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit of the Crown Office and Procurator
Fiscal Service wrote to the ECCLR Committee on 30 May 2017 about the
admissibility of evidence in respect of wildlife crime.
17. The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 requires the
Government to lay an annual report on wildlife crime before the Parliament. The
Wildlife Crime in Scotland (Annual Report 2016) was scrutinised by the ECCLR
Committee in January 2018. It is expected that the ECCLR Committee will
scrutinise the 2017 Annual Report in early 2019.
18. In response to a written Parliamentary Question, S5W-06079, in January 2017,
the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
stated that the Poustie recommendation to increase maximum penalties
requires consultation and primary legislation, and that the consultation will be
undertaken during this Parliamentary session.
Action
19. The Committee is invited to consider what action it wishes to take on the
petition. Options include—
• Writing to the Scottish Government to seek its views on the action called
for in the petition
• Seeking the views of other stakeholders on the action called for in the
petition.
• Flag the petition to the ECCLR Committee in advance of its scrutiny of
the Wildlife Crime in Scotland (Annual Report 2017)
• Any other action the Committee wishes to take.
SPICe/Clerk to the Committee

Update on 16th October 2018

I have now been advised that the petition is to be considered by the Public Petitions Committee on the 25th October 2018.

Update on 28th September, 2018.

The petition is now described as lodged, and I await a date when it will go to the petitions committee. It may even be in the next 2 weeks, looking at the petition numbers at the last meeting. I am attempting to resolve some issues prior to that time. I am principally concerned that the wording I suggest for the Wildlife and Countryside Act may be totally ineffective in allowing prosecutions to reach court. Rather than say that I wish to change the wording, it may be prudent to suggest a set of alternative wordings to different sections, as that may be better received, leaving the original wording in place as an alternative. I don’t even have a wording I’m totally happy with. I don’t know if the wording may be able to be submitted to the meeting, or if I will be invited to attend. I don’t suppose that there are many people who are expert at this. I’m sure I do not wish to become expert.

Update on 16th August 2018

The petition is now classed as open on the government website at   Petition PE01705

I now need to collect signatures which I had hoped to avoid so please go to the website and sign the petition if you agree with the aims, and/or make comments there. I have used my almost dormant twitter account to help publicise the petition. My handle  is @amilne1945

July post

This website has been set up to publicise my petition submitted to the Scottish Parliament on March 15th 2018, but “under review” for the last four months, to try to improve the chances of video evidence being allowed to go to court in Scotland where the courts can decide on the admissibility of the evidence rather than the Crown Office and Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). It also asks to increase the powers of the police to give them the additional powers their representative discussed with the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLRC). The website has been set up as a blog, a format that I am familiar with, in order that people may respond with help in correcting and informing any omissions and errors in my petition and the background material provided here. I am sending information on this blog to current members of the ECCLRC, the cabinet secretaries for Environment and the Justice committees and my MSPs.

The website allows comment, albeit strictly moderated, and I am particularly interested in receiving references to relevant cases, journal articles. If you do not wish your comment to be seen on the website but do wish to advise to me as a suggestion, please indicate this.  

This website is set up as a blog. There are links to information about commenting and the posts below the cover photograph, and the right hand column shows links to recent posts. Please be aware that the content will be updated as the information is improved. If the petition goes forward draft copies of the submissions intended for committees will be published for comment. Major superseded revisions will be kept available.

Here are links to earlier posts for which I am particularly seeking suggestions:

The Petition on Wildlife Crime

Greater powers for the police in investigating wildlife crime.

Video evidence being decided in court

Timeline

The abandoned cases.

Tillypronie Estate

The Law and other documents in relation to the matters in the Petition