The Petition on Wildlife crime

16th August 2018 post.

The petition has today been published  and is now classed as open. I requested that the petition would accept comments on the government website, but no signatures would be collected. I have been advised that it is not possible on the government system to have that. The petition will therefore collect signatures until 26th September. I assume that a large number of signatures would improve the chances of the petition proceeding beyond the petitions committee, as the petition is self explanatory and tries to enact requests already in the public domain. I will therefore need to learn how to campaign and tweet, something I have not really done before, and I had hoped to avoid that.

The wording of the petition has changed after discussions between myself and the staff in the petitions office, who have been most helpful.

The revised information is as follows:

1. Name of petitioner
Alexander Strachan Milne
2. Petition title
Wildlife crime – penalties and investigation

Short form:

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.

Background Information.

Under the provisions of the Police Act 1997, (Part III Section 93), the police can only request to place covert cameras to gather evidence of serious crimes which carry a potential minimum punishment of 3 years.

The use of covert cameras by bodies such as the RSPB is an important tool in the monitoring of many species. It is capable of detecting crime, but usually the main purpose is to increase knowledge of the species and their predators, not the investigation of wildlife crime, although at the present time this incidental occurrence will inevitably happen on a regular basis if they are set on the nests of raptors. It could also form the basis of a police prosecution. However, with the penalty for wildlife crime being 6 months, the evidence gathering and corroboration process is hampered, and it has been suggested that if the police cannot set covert cameras, neither should NGOs and the public.

Following the Poustie Review, it is expected that the penalty for wildlife crime will be increased to 2 years. But if the penalty is less than 3 years it is not regarded as a serious crime and the police are limited in the actions they can take in respect of a reported possible crime. I believe the penalty should be increased to 3 years.

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 the 2 aspects in 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 there are serious difficulties in allowing the police to use or deploy video cameras and conduct some searches in wildlife crime cases unless wildlife crime can be included in the definition of serious crime.

The COPFS detailed in a letter to the committee the reasoning behind refusing to allow the cases before the courts which had video evidence available.

During the 2018 meeting Laura Buchan, who is head of the health and safety division of the COPFS, stated: “There will often be disagreements within the team as lawyers discuss how best to apply the law. If that happens, we do not stop there. Often, when we have cases and decisions of such magnitude, reports are prepared for our senior advocate depute within the Crown Office so that they can make the final decision as to whether cases should proceed or whether, in some instances, we should no longer proceed.”

Under the present law dependent on the circumstances if video evidence is obtained of persons engaged in crime then  even video evidence obtained solely to detect crime is capable of being excused. This petition seeks to side with those members of the Crown Office who thought these prosecutions should proceed under the present Law.

Whether a case may proceed often depends on Common Law, so the following change in the Law is proposed to make it somewhat more likely that the courts will be allowed to decide whether evidence is admissible. This change does not seek to overrule the common law aspects completely, and cases may still be discontinued due to inadmissibility of video evidence before reaching court.

In July 2013 the then Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said that he would be urging the Crown Office to consider the use of video footage in cases against those committing wildlife crime, and this minor change should help in that respect.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 be amended by adding in a Section 19B entitled “Admissibility of evidence in Scotland”:

“In any proceedings in Scotland for any offence under Part 1 there shall be a presumption that photographic, audio recording or video evidence shall be admitted.”

Previous action.

I have written to my MSPs, and have had correspondence with the Scottish Government and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

I have also written to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee

 

26th July post.

The Petition has now been reviewed by the Petitions Office. They have suggested amendments to my original submission, most of which seem sensible. I will not discuss the changes proposed or my comments, but will place the final petition above here, if it goes forward. The original document will be left below, for information only. In the meantime I am now preparing posts examining the various aspects of the background to the petition prior to preparing a submission to any committee that it may be forwarded to by the petitions committee. These posts will likely not start until the petition moves forward in the system.

13th July post.

My petition was submitted on 15th March 2018. I was expecting that it would have been through the system by now, and was informed when I queried the progress that it was suitable to go forward and would soon be on someone’s desk for action. That was 4 months ago, so I feel that my petition, should it eventually get to the Petition Committee, would be improved if people with more knowledge than myself, can assist in formulating the presentation of the petition.

The format of the submission of a petition has to follow a set of rules, and here is how I would presently like the petition to appear:

“Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to allow greater powers for the police in investigating wildlife crime, and allow courts to decide if the use of video evidence as corroboration is permissible.
Due to the provisions of the Police Act 1997, Part III Section 93, as only serious crimes with a potential punishment of 3 years can allow police to request to place covert cameras, and investigate fully the punishment for wildlife crime should be increased from 6 months to 3 years.

Video evidence has been available which could have been used as corroboration on at least 2 occasions. The COPFS in conjunction with the Crown Office did not allow these cases to proceed. In 2014/15 COPFS allowed a case to go for trial which resulted in a criminal conviction and imprisonment. The later decision makes it unlikely that in cases where video evidence is available that the case will proceed. Whether a case may proceed depends on Common Law, so the following change in the Law is proposed to make it likely that courts will be allowed to decide if evidence is admissible.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 be amended by adding in a Section 19B
entitled
“Admissibility of evidence in Scotland.
In any proceedings in Scotland for any offence under Part 1 there shall be a presumption that photographic, audio recording or video evidence shall be admitted.”
This change is proposed to make video evidence more likely to be admissible in wildlife crime without overruling the common law aspects completely.

Previous Action

May 2017. Wrote to all my MSPs about my disquiet at the decision of COPFS to refuse to allow the courts to decide on admissibility of evidence.
June 2017. Received some positive responses from some MSPs.
August 2017. Ms. Maureen Watt MSP received and forwarded me a letter from Mrs.Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in which she suggested I approach COPFS. I did so, advising that I had been advised by the Cabinet Secretary to approach them, enclosing the document I had prepared for my MSPs, and suggested several methods by which we could communicate.
October 2017. Received a letter from COPFS, advising that “It would not be appropriate for COPFS to comment directly in respect of any proposal you may wish to make to the ECCLR Committee.”
Wrote to the ECCLRC, and to all the current members a proposal for changes to the Law which would improve matters.
February 2018. Following of the publishing of the minutes of the meeting which considered the Wildlife Crime Annual Report 2016, which covered many of the proposals I had made, I reduced the number of changes to law that I had previously proposed, and sent a revised document to the ECCLRC and the current members of the committee. I was advised that the committee did not have “any plans at the moment to consider the report further.  It does however maintain an interest in the issue of wildlife crime.”

Background Information

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 the 2 aspects in 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 there are serious difficulties in allowing the police to use or deploy video cameras and conduct some searches in wildlife crime cases unless wildlife crime can be included in the definition of serious crime.
The Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) detailed in a previous letter letter to the committee the reasoning behind refusing to allow the cases before the courts which had video evidence available.
During the 2018 meeting Laura Buchan, who is head of the health and safety division of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, stated: “There will often be disagreements within the team as lawyers discuss how best to apply the law. If that happens, we do not stop there. Often, when we have cases and decisions of such magnitude, reports are prepared for our senior advocate depute within the Crown Office so that they can make the final decision as to whether cases should proceed or whether, in some instances, we should no longer proceed.” This suggests that the law as it stands is close to what is required, and the minor change suggested here would be sufficient.

You can create your own unique URL to promote your petition (e.g. www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/foxhunting) http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/Wildlifecrime

 

Would you like to collect signatures online? No
Select a closing date that allows a period of 4 to 6 weeks for collecting signatures. The petition will be lodged and scheduled for consideration by the Public Petitions Committee once this date has passed.
Comments to stimulate online

How many signatures have you collected so far, if any? 0”

This entry was posted in Petition. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *