Please understand that I am not seeking to undermine the independence of the Scottish Justice system, and will take no action which leads to that. The petition does not this aim either, and will not mention much of the contents of these posts.
The Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group headed by Professor Poustie issued it’s report in November 2015. The report considers the present sentences for the many crimes for in it’s remit, and also whether an increase in sentence would be effective in reducing the crimes. It does not propose exact sentences. The government has agreed that it will increase some of the sentences to specific figures. The present applicable sentences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 can be found in a table on the government website, most being 6 months imprisonment.
This petition only addresses a small sector of the crimes considered in the report. The petition is only concerned with the maximum sentence because it would increase the powers of the police to investigate crimes if the sentence were increased to a figure of 3 years or more, although an increase may also deter. It is suggested that each of the present sentences for offences be considered before legislation is put forward to assess the sentence proposed.
I will now go through exactly why the sentence needs to be increased for some crimes. The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLRC) held a meeting on 16th January 2018 at which the Wildlife Crime Annual Report 2016 was discussed. The excellent discussion covered this aspect of this petition.
Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott stated: “It is worth pointing out that our operational activity in the deployment of cameras and directed surveillance is clearly bound by strict legislation. Any activity that we might want to carry out in that regard—in relation to any type of crime, and not just wildlife crime—is bound by that legislation. Under the serious crime test and so on, a three-year sentence would have to be applicable, so there are a number of factors before we can even consider deploying cameras in an investigation.” This statement confirms that if there is a possible sentence of 3 years the work of the police in investigating wildlife crime would be enhanced.
The letter from COPFS to the convener of EECLRC on 30th May 2017 said: “The police have specific powers which they may utilise in appropriate cases in the investigation of wildlife crime. In particular, section 19(2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 gives a specific power to constables to enter premises other than a dwelling if the constable suspects with reasonable cause that any person is committing or has committed an offence under Part I of the 1982 Act. Further, as you will appreciate, the police have statutory powers (under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 and the Police Act 1997) under which they may, when that is permitted under the statutory regime, be authorised to undertake covert surveillance. ” I would like the last sentence to be true in the case of specific cases such as those discussed in the letter. The letter made no reference to other cases. It is at present not true that the police in such cases can be authorised, and I find it strange that COPFS suggested that the power might be available to the police. I suggest then so as to avoid the blushes of COPFS, the Government passes the necessary legislation at the earliest opportunity.
It is the case that the police would wish to have the powers afforded by a sentence of 3 years of greater, COPFS perhaps thinks the power is already there, so I can see no negative aspect to the suggestion in the petition. I look forward to seeing if it has universal support within the Scottish Parliament.
Although not part of the petition, it may be worth bringing to the attention of MSPs that an increase in the sentence for vicarious liability in wildlife crime cases would allow some cases to proceed by giving better powers of investigation to the police which would otherwise fail. Such a failure may already have occurred.