Second hearing of Petition on 4 April 2019

I was informed today that the second hearing is to be held on 4 April. There will be no evidence taken, as far as I am aware, and the papers for the meeting will be published on 1 April.

The submissions for this hearing are available here:
http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01705

My submission of 21 March is now listed as of 1 April 2019.

When I decided to be more aggressive on 16 December 2018, I realised that it would be difficult to score any points against the might of the Crown Office. I do believe, however, that the 2 major submissions that I have made in support of my petition are powerful. They may hopefully be pushing on an open door as far as MSPs are concerned.

The government has said in their submission speaking of the Poustie recommendations “It remains intention of the Scottish Government to take forward the necessary primary legislation during the current Parliamentary session. ” I find that hard to believe but nevertheless I am in time for MSPs who read my petition and supporting submissions to ensure that the levels of sentences for those wildlife crimes which concern me are increased to a satisfactory level, and no less that 3 years. The level needs to be such that it is regarded as serious crime. I’m not sure of the legal terms which would allow a hearing in a higher court but I can leave that to the government if it wishes, or to MSPs if not.

The Crown Office, in choosing to reinforce the omertà I have faced since I decided to take the matter of wildlife crime in hand, have not done themselves any favours. I would have been happy, had they allowed me to gain access by some means to more information about the use of video evidence as the Cabinet Secretary suggested, to remain silent as to many aspects of the communication between us. I am, due to their refusal to engage, free to make the submissions I have in the manner I have.

Update 2 April 2019. The agenda and meeting papers for the 4 April meeting were published, at https://www.parliament.scot/S5_PublicPetitionsCommittee/Meeting%20Papers/1April_PuplicPapers.pdf and I have no issues with the content. I will note here however that a) there is a reference “In a statement to the Parliament on 9 January 2019, the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment outlined a number of measures and consultations that the Government is taking forward to inform any primary or secondary legislation.” and I can find no mention of anything relevant to the petition, and b) that my submission of 21 March 2019 seems to be redated to 31 March. This may mean nothing, but I am concerned that the date may be important.

Update 5 April 2019 The meeting was held. In a short consideration of the petition it was decided, as suggested in the meeting papers, that the petition be forwarded to the ECCLRC for consideration. I may change this update once I read the transcript, not available until Monday 8th. I’m happy with that decision.

Update 11 April 2019. Transcript of the short discussion:

“Our final continued petition is PE1705, lodged by Alex Milne, which calls for a review of legislation relating to the investigation of, and penalties applicable to, wildlife crime in Scotland.

The clerk’s note refers to the Scottish Government’s submission, which states that it intends to bring forward legislation to increase penalties relating to wildlife crime. The petitioner has welcomed that intention and has indicated that he will respond to any consultation that the Government brings forward to inform any primary or secondary legislation.

The petitioner has also provided what he considers to be potential solutions to the current difficulties in presenting video evidence in the context of wildlife crime, and he notes that the challenges were recently discussed as part of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s consideration of the “Wildlife Crime in Scotland: 2017 Annual Report”.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Angus MacDonald:
The petitioner has rightly highlighted the issue of video evidence. The ECCLR Committee, of which I am a member, has been looking at this issue for some time, and it has heard that video evidence has, for various reasons, not been used, which is a matter of concern. Given that the ECCLR Committee recently took evidence on the wildlife crime annual report for 2017—we are always a year or sometimes two behind with the annual reports—given that the issue of wildlife crime has been very much on that committee’s radar since it was formed, and given that its predecessor, the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, took the issue extremely seriously, too, there is a good argument for referring the petition to that committee so that it can be given the time and concentration that it deserves.

The Convener:
As there appear to be no other views, I thank the petitioner for his substantial response to help with our consideration of the petition. Do we agree to refer the petition to the ECCLR Committee for its consideration as part of its on-going work on wildlife crime and for any potential scrutiny of relevant legislation in this session?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener:
I again thank the petitioner. I think that significant progress has been made as a consequence of this petition, and the petitioner himself will be able to follow the ECCLR Committee’s continuing consideration of this issue.”

Since the meeting I have found that the opinion of the bench of five judges which discussed the state of uncertainty in the law in relation to video evidence has been given, which means that the proposal I made in the submission cannot be now made in the manner I suggested, which means additionally that a similar proposal by government would infringe judiciary independence from the legislators, so I will need to amend the submission. I am actively considering how this can be accomplished to save this aspect of the petition. I do not minimise the difficulty as I do not yet know what aspects of Law any changes I need to encompass, and COPFS have been unhelpful in my attempt to determine the reason for the inadmissibility, or even the irregularity which was deemed inadmissible in the type of case I am trying to ensure reaches court. Truthfully, I had no idea when I set out writing the petition that it would be so hard for an individual to determine the necessary meaningful changes to the Law, or the huge obstacles to be faced in the extremely powerful silence. It appears beyond my ability at present.

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