Post 3. The abandoned cases. The Craig Graham case.

First I will repeat that I have no legal qualifications. I actively seek comments which would allow me to correct the statements I make here about the law and it’s interpretation. This post cannot form part of my submission to any Scottish Government committee, but it will help me to prepare a more suitable submission. 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 have this aim either, and will not mention much of the contents of these posts.

I have no personal details of the case. My interpretation will be based on the media statements. All media statements need to be read with caution. The case was in media as follows:

BBC “A man has been charged with setting wild bird traps on a Glenisla country estate. Craig Graham, 51, is alleged to have set a “fenn-type trap”, baited with a pheasant carcass on a tree stump, between Bridge of Brewlands and Kirkton of Glenisla. Prosecutors say he repeatedly set the trap, which was likely to “cause bodily injury to any wild birds coming into contact with it”.”

BBC “Confidence in prosecutors’ ability to convict for crimes against birds of prey is being significantly undermined, according to RSPB Scotland. The charity has questioned the Crown Office’s decision to drop the case against a gamekeeper accused of setting an illegal trap. It has released footage which was due to be used in the trial purporting to show a “pole trap” being laid out. The case against Craig Graham has been discontinued. The Crown Office said video evidence provided by the RSPB in both cases was not admissible to the court because it was filmed for the purposes of gathering evidence. The charity has insisted that was not the case and that the crimes were recorded accidently. RSPB Scotland’s lead investigator Ian Thomson told BBC Scotland: “What has happened over the last few weeks has undermined our confidence significantly in that we’ve had two cases discontinued with absolutely no explanation. “It removes any opportunity for either ourselves or the police or anyone else who is engaged in tackling the scourge of raptor persecution to learn anything at all.””

The National: “Staff from the charity had filmed Craig Graham from Brewlands in Angus seemingly setting a “pole trap” designed to snap shut and break the legs of raptors. The barbaric traps were outlawed in 1904. The birds are protected by law, but can cause difficulties for game- keepers and land managers by attacking smaller birds, such as grouse, which are being reared for shooting. RSPB staff had discovered the trap in Brewlands on top of a pheasant carcass. With no phone signal to allow them to contact police, they made the trap safe and then placed a video camera pointing towards it. A few days later the organisation’s staff and a police wildlife crime officer returned to the scene to find the trap had been reset. The footage recorded allegedly showed Graham resetting the trap. He was subsequently charged him with four offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Police sent a report to the procurator fiscal, who marked the case for prosecution. Graham pleaded not guilty, and after six hearings, the trial was due to start on Monday. On Thursday, with little warning, the RSPB were told the Crown had dropped the case.”

Legal Eagle August 2017; Pole trap case abandoned.
…”on 25 April 2017, the Crown Office discontinued the case against gamekeeper Craig Graham, who was accused of setting and re-setting a pole trap on the Brewlands Estate in July 2015. The case had been scheduled for a trial on 15 May this year. On 9 July 2015, during routine fieldwork, RSPB Scotland Investigations staff discovered a pole trap on the Brewlands Estate in Glen Isla, Angus. This consisted of an illegally set spring trap placed on top of a pheasant carcass on a post. With no mobile phone signal to allow contact with the police, the trap was made safe and a video camera installed with a view to securing evidence until the police could attend. A review of the video footage showed an individual resetting the trap on two occasions, one of which occurred after the trap had fallen off the bait and triggered itself. The individual was reported for four offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.”

There is enough here to work with, together with the letter from COPFS reviewed in an earlier post. This letter states: “Following a defence challenge to the admissibility of covert video evidence obtained by RSPB investigators in the case against Stanley Gordon, Crown Counsel carried out a review of the relevant material bearing on that case and the case against Craig Graham. Crown Counsel concluded that the placing of covert cameras was, in those cases, for the purpose of detecting crime.” I will first say that the setting of the camera in this case was subsequent to the initial detection of the crime. The pole trap is easy to detect, by both humans and birds. It has been illegal for over 100 years,and the setting of the pole trap is a crime. The crime had already been detected, accidentally according to the media extracts above. The placing of the covert camera was plainly subsequent to the initial detection. The RSPB I assume did help the police subsequent to informing them of the pole trap at an early opportunity, but the police from that point on were in charge of detection and investigation, not the RSPB.

The articles make clear that the persons who made the discovery were RSPB staff. It should therefore be apparent that they may have been intending to detect crime, particularly as we now know that a crime had likely already been committed. The media extracts here seem to suggest that the RSPB personnel did not say they were detecting crime, and the discovery of the trap, and hence the detection were accidental. It is reasonable for a court to decide that the purpose of the RSPB staff being in that location was to detect crime. It is my contention however, that the role of the COPFS in this instance is only to look at the law in relation to the matter. The defence challenge was not from the representative of Craig Graham, so I assume that no evidence was led by them to suggest that the RSPB personnel were known to be detecting and investigating crime. That should presumably be done in the court where witnesses could be questioned as to their presence in the area and their intent. It did not get to court. I have also reviewed whether investigating and detecting crime is allowable under the Town and Countryside Act 1981 in a previous post so will not repeat the argument here.

I will therefore only look at the law and how the common law could be interpreted, just as the COPFS would have done. The RSPB staff, if they were passing through the area,  would have a right to be there.

The articles above make clear that they could not contact the police from the location. Any person may accidentally detect crime, however the police are the appropriate people to investigate crime, and the articles made clear that the RSPB personnel were well aware of that. They did report the trap to the police who did investigate, charging Craig Graham with an offence. The prosecution failed on the actions of the RSPB personnel so let us look at what they did and could have done. They could have reported to the police without placing a camera. You may think that the police could then have placed a camera or asked the RSPB to do so with the police in attendance, particularly as the COPFS said in the letter “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 ask you not to be swayed by this as the statutory regime does not allow the police to undertake covert surveillance where the crime only has a 6 month maximum sentence. It suggests the the police, when alerted by the persons discovering the illegal trap, could have applied for authority to subsequently set a concealed camera themselves or delegated the RSPB to do so under police supervision. It is a pity that it is not true. They could have approached the appropriate land manager to get permission. As the person charged was likely in the employment of the land manager, had a conviction of the person setting the trap occurred then the land manager would be facing a possible charge of vicarious liability if the land manager could at that stage be identified. The RSPB staff did not try to find a land manager, but informed the police, presumably as soon as they could do so. The only issue therefore is the setting of the camera after the discovery of the possible crime. It is important to reiterate that the people did not set the camera with any issue of the camera being placed for research purposes. They were well aware that a crime had been committed.

Having determined, as the RSPB staff, the police but not apparently COPFS were aware, that they could not ask the police to approve the use of a camera, we already know what they did. They set a concealed camera.

It is at this stage that the COPFS say that the error was made which drew them to the conclusion that the case could not be proceeded. It is stated that the setting of the camera was to detect crime and that they would be breaking the Scottish outdoor access code. That may be true because a land manager would be required to approve it. However COPFS also state that the police had not obtained authorisation for the camera, which would have to be done before the camera was placed. There are 2 issues here. The first is that the people setting the camera were not bound by RIP(S)A, and would not need to have authorisation and it is not available to them.  The second is that I believe that the police did not need authorisation to use the video evidence so obtained. The police were bound by RIP(S)A and may have needed approval to set a camera themselves. They did not need approval to use the video evidence and place it before a court. They do that all the time.

The only irregularity is the failure of the persons setting the camera after seeing an illegal trap to get approval from a potential criminal to set the camera in place. It appears in that case that a potential criminal has rights that overrule the failure of the non criminals to seek approval from him or her. COPFS state: “the subsequent video evidence was obtained irregularly. The  irregularity was not capable of being excused, for the purposes of the common law of admissibility…”. That would not be the decision I would take, and I reject it utterly.

It is important not only to consider whether the statement that  “the placing of covert cameras was, in those cases, for the purpose of detecting crime.” Crime detection in the Oxford dictionary is defined as: “The process of uncovering criminal activity (or verifying reported crime) and acquiring evidence in order to identify and prosecute its perpetrators.” In the post about the letter I said that in relation to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 it is important that we consider whether those actions to see if they fall more within the provisions of Section 1 which allows the right of access or more to Section 9  which refuses right of access. Section 1 allows “the right to cross land.” In the media above it indicates that the trap was discovered during routine field work. From the statement about in the letter and the above it seems that “the placing of covert cameras” was when COPFS decide that the contravention of the Act occurred, not when they were crossing the land and came across the trap. When they placed the trap it might have been said that they were investigating a crime already detected, allowing the police to continue the process of both detection and investigation of the crime. I believe it might be the decision of a court that the investigation of an already detected crime could be excused. The detection of the crime, it seems, was not deemed an issue by COPFS, if you accept my assertion that to anyone would conclude  at the sight of a baited pole trap that a crime had taken place (or detected).  Again, this makes the decision somewhat strange.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 already states in Section 3 “Reciprocal obligations of owners” Subsection (3) “In this section the references to the use, management and conduct of the ownership of land in a way which is responsible are references to the use, management and conduct of the ownership of it in a way which is lawful and reasonable and takes proper account of the interests of persons exercising or seeking to exercise access rights”. I would have thought that unlawful acts committed by an employee and hence possibly also by the land manager under vicarious responsibility legislation that this would be sufficient to allow a member of the public to provide video evidence to the police even if it was obtained in contravention of 3.64 of the guidance. It appears that the decision allows an employee and the owner to act illegally, in contravention of the Act whereas the person discovering an illegality cannot legally provide video evidence as corroboration to the police.

I think that this is an appropriate place to consider issues not raised by COPFS, but which I have considered in the preparation of this blog, because it has been suggested that it may be relevant, and I would like to show that someone committing such a crime can have no expectation that a video “is not obtaining information about them which is properly to be regarded as “private””. I assume that the police have the power to view video evidence  from a camera which has been placed by someone who is not bound by RIP(S)A. This is fairly routine for the police, who regularly use video from CCTV, their own sources etc. for which they have not previously sought authorisation. If the video evidence has been obtained subsequent to the police being made aware of the potential offence and the placing of the camera, I believe it is more than likely that no authorisation was necessary under the present legislation. It could even be, that if before placing the camera, the persons, if they had phone coverage, which it was stated that they did not, could have contacted the police who could instruct them to place a camera without authorisation, as it was recognised that a crime most likely had already taken place, and the evidence from the camera would be useful in the investigation.

I will look at this in respect of the blog by Professor Peter Duff of the University of Aberdeen. In his defence of the decision not to proceed, he says “the actions by the RSPB are a breach of the right to privacy of both the estate owners and their employees”.

An estate owner who does not take active steps to prevent the placing of pole traps is likely to be committing a crime of vicarious liability, and the employee is also likely committing a crime in setting the trap. Under OSC’s 2016 Procedures & Guidance document Section 279 states: “Surveillance of persons while they are actually engaged in crime in a public place is not obtaining information about them which is properly to be regarded as “private”. Additionally under Section 1.14 of Covert Surveillance and Property Interference Code of Practice as described elsewhere authorisation is not needed for directed surveillance if no private information is likely to result. My conclusion is that in setting the camera is not such a breach of privacy, and no irregularity in the obtaining of evidence has taken place.

It is important to again reiterate that I have no qualifications in law, these words are a result of my researches into finding a suitable set of words to enter legislation to allow video footage to be used in future cases. I am happy, but would not be delighted, to be persuaded that I have made errors.

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Post 4. The abandoned cases. The Stanley Gordon case.

First I will repeat that I have no legal qualifications. I actively seek comments which would allow me to correct the statements I make here about the law and it’s interpretation. This post cannot form part of my submission to any Scottish Government committee, but it will help me to prepare a more suitable submission. 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.

I have no personal details of the case. My interpretation will be based on the media statements. All media statements need to be read with caution. The case was in media as follows:

BBC “The charity said their camera recorded evidence indicating the hen harrier was shot at Cabrach in June 2013. Stanley Gordon denied illegally killing the bird of prey. The Crown Office said it had been concluded that the evidence would not be admissible in court. Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “RSPB video evidence has been used in the successful prosecution of previous wildlife crime cases in Scotland. “We are appalled and extremely frustrated that the court has not been given the opportunity to give a judgement based on this footage, and we are perplexed by the inconsistency in approach to these cases that seems to be taken by the Crown Office. “We have written to the Lord Advocate and will be seeking urgent meetings with the Crown Office to consider the implications.”
‘Entirely appropriate’
A Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) spokesman said: “In accordance with the Crown’s ongoing duty to keep prosecutions under review and after carrying out a detailed review of all of the relevant material, Crown counsel considered that the inevitable conclusion was that RSPB investigators entered the land in question and embarked upon evidence gathering for the purpose of prosecution.”

The National “Stanley Gordon, from Cabrach in Moray, was charged with illegally killing a hen harrier in Moray, after RSPB video footage appeared to show him shooting the bird in June 2013. Gordon always denied illegally killing the bird. In both cases the Crown Office said video evidence was not admissible to the court because it was filmed for the purposes of gathering evidence.”

Legal Eagle August 2017 “On 20 May 2013, an RSPB camera was deployed on a moorland hen harrier nest containing four eggs on the Cabrach Estate, Morayshire to record the outcome of the nesting attempt – a routine part of the RSPB’s work for this species. Over the next three weeks the footage indicated all was well. However, on 10 June 2013 the female hen harrier was apparently flushed off the nest. This was followed by two gun shots and a shower of feathers could be seen. A few seconds later, a man carrying a shotgun entered the frame and moved towards where the hen harrier had flown. He then returned into view holding what was believed to be the carcass of the bird, and picked up a few feathers. On reviewing the footage, RSPB Investigations staff reported the incident to Police Scotland.”

 

 

There is enough here to work with, together with the letter from COPFS reviewed in an earlier post. This letter states: “Following a defence challenge to the admissibility of covert video evidence obtained by RSPB investigators in the case against Stanley Gordon, Crown Counsel carried out a review of the relevant material bearing on that case and the case against Craig Graham. Crown Counsel concluded that the placing of covert cameras was, in those cases, for the purpose of detecting crime.” This case is distinctly different from the case of Craig Graham, and it deserves to he considered separately here. Setting a covert camera on a bird nest is standard practice and it can reveal much useful science including nesting success, nesting failure and video evidence can determine exactly what happened in most cases. This is undertaken on a regular basis not only on hen harriers, but also on many other species all over the UK. It is  normal part of a body such as the RSPB and I assume, not being a “birder”, that they work in conjunction with bodies such as the British Trust for Ornithology, Scottish Ornithology Club and various raptor monitoring groups throughout the UK in carrying out this work. You may ask why they need to use covert cameras. I’m sure it is because if the camera were visible it may modify the behaviour of either the birds or their predators, be they avian or mammalian. If a corvid were to use the camera as a perch, clearly the nest would be visible. The result would not only be a failed nest, it would provide bad science. Many estates allow the RSPB to place cameras on nests and I assume the necessary permissions are given. As virtually the whole UK has many “birders” any unusual bird which arrives in an area it is normally rapidly discovered, and the raptors which are present at nesting time would be reasonably accurately recorded  over most of the country. Equally the estates which could be relied upon to refuse permission to place cameras would be well known.  For these records to have general usefulness, it is important to cover a variety of habitats. Unfortunately there is  likely to be commonality between uncooperative estates and the habitat. The areas of the country covered are also important for good science to be conducted. I have no doubt that the Cairngorms National Park and the Angus glens (I have been told that no Hen Harriers successfully bred on grouse moors in the Angus glens between 2006 and 2017 on what should be prime territory) would show much commonality. It is important however that these “blackspots” have as much work conducted therein as the estates which would cooperate to give good science. Now in the UK it is likely that the RSPB would be to go to source for camera installation, and I assume it is one of the regular duties of the investigations team. It is not all looking at dead birds and deciding if it has likely been persecuted and sending the bodies off, I can imagine. Much useful science would come from their cooperation in scientific studies, and I have read about many of them.  This is not an aside to the legal issues, and it hopes to show that if a hen harrier is seen to be shot off it’s nest, it is not the only bird which will have nest cameras placed nearby, and a lot of them, such as on a wader for instance, cannot ever be deemed to be there for “the purpose of detecting crime” and “RSPB investigators entered the land in question and embarked upon evidence gathering for the purpose of prosecution.” The RSPB does not think this is the case and has robustly defended it’s actions.  I think it appropriate to remind people that we see on our television screens for the purpose of entertainment but nonetheless sometimes providing good scientific insight, views of animals placed by cameras less likely to be placed covertly as the intent is to capture good images and by removing foliage actually puts the animal in more danger. The scientific use of covert cameras is taking place far more often than those seen on television screens. These are most likely in places where the public in Scotland has a perfect right to go but are most unlikely to venture.

I will now look at the conduct of the owner and (likely) his employee in light of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which states in Section 3 “Reciprocal obligations of owners” Subsection (3) “In this section the references to the use, management and conduct of the ownership of land in a way which is responsible are references to the use, management and conduct of the ownership of it in a way which is lawful and reasonable and takes proper account of the interests of persons exercising or seeking to exercise access rights. ” It is the unlawful acts by an employee and hence possibly also by the land manager under vicarious responsibility legislation that has caused the member of the public obtain on the camera the video evidence which COPFS say was obtained in contravention of the guidance and the Act. If the employee had not acted unlawfully in this way, the contravention by the member of the public would not have occurred.

There is a government sponsored scheme at present called “Heads up for Harriers”. This sets cameras on the nests of these most persecuted birds. It requires the land manager to give permission for the setting of the camera. For obvious reasons it is most unlikely that a crime would be committed against the birds on the nest. The science from these nests is already useful, if limited, and I understand that some grouse moors have recently joined the scheme. This is to be lauded, but concern has been expressed that there are many estates who have refused to participate. That is their right, but adds to the suspicion that many more birds are being killed or disturbed.

It is important not only to consider whether the statement that  “the placing of covert cameras was, in those cases, for the purpose of detecting crime.” In the post about the letter I said that in relation to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 it is important that we consider whether those actions to see if they fall more within the provisions of Section 1 which allows the right of access or more to Section 9  which refuses right of access. Section 1 allows “for the purposes of carrying on a relevant educational activity” In the media above it indicates that The camera on the nest had been there for some time, and it is undoubtedly the case that much useful material has been obtained of an educational nature using this technique. This seems to have been missed by COPFS in their bold statement that: “The purpose of investigating and detecting crime is not one of those purposes.” when referring to section 1 and ignoring section which lists activities which are not permitted.

It seems strange however, that by not allowing a court to make that decision, which I assume would need to be backed up by strong evidence, that that was the decision taken in this instance. They must have been pretty sure, and it is strange that with such strong evidence, if indeed they did have such strong evidence, that they decided to discontinue the case rather than let a court make the decision in a more public forum so the public could have confidence in the decision, and remove the likely confusion on the part of the police who took the decision to charge.. It might indeed be the case that a court might excuse the behaviour upon examination. If this happened, the person convicted has every right to appeal. That would  allow an appeal court to decide on the issue with a public pronouncement that we could all accept. It is all very strange.

This case raises the simple issue of whether anything can be done about it.The petition which I have submitted should be simple and may do the trick. It does require the government to take some action, and I would suggest that it is done sooner rather than later. At the moment it has the same authority as an Act passed in the Scottish Parliament, an appeal decision or case law, issued always in my experience with competent public explanation.

The letter only came into public view when COPFS were asked to explain their thinking, which was a reasonable request. Without the letter we would be no wiser as the the thinking behind it, and I could not now be asking relevant questions. The letter with it’s reasons, however, is accessible to the public, which may not have been anticipated. The letter, whilst it still sits there is, I suggest, an embarrassment to the Scottish legal establishment, probably the butt of many jokes from other legal authorities. If my critique of the letter is correct, there is barely a statement which withstands scrutiny. The Scottish legal establishment, far from proclaiming “that the public can have confidence in an effective, rigorous, fair and independent COPFS”, as the Crown Agent wrote to the Justice committee in May 2017, embarrassed that it is in existence. Remember, and I am firmly in favour of this, the independence of the Crown Office must be maintained. The public and the government cannot act. The COPFS has rejected an opportunity that I was kindly afforded to communicate with them about the same matters in a more private format than this blog.

In addition my concerns over this statement, I would refer to my consideration of the letter and the Craig Graham case. Most of the criticism I make of the letter can be found in those previous posts.

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Some good news about the petition

I was contacted yesterday (Wednesday 18th July) by one of the civil servants about the content of the petition which confirmed that I would be receiving their suggestions about the petition shortly. Things are probably moving forward. I will not be revealing any of the discussion but will wait until the petition wording is agreed, and will give details of the petition when it is published.

There is no hurry, as I have now ascertained that the next session of Parliament does not commence until September. By then I hope to have developed more posts ready to have my arguments finalised if I have to give evidence to the Petitions Committee and beyond. I’m content with what I could write even now, but I’m sure that there are more good arguments available.

The email arrived today (Thursday 19th July), and I shall respond after reading it carefully and collecting my thoughts.

I expect that the first hurdle will be the Petitions committee. I do not think I need to have all my apples in a row even by then. The second hurdle(s) if the first is passed will likely be the ECCLRC and/or the Justice Committee. At this stage I imagine other parties will be able to submit papers for consideration by the committee(s). Both the RSPB and Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) are already aware of the petition as I sent a copy of my original petition to their representatives of both organisations, as they spoke at the Law Seminar in Aberdeen and I sent a copy to the speakers for whom I found an email address. The RSPB presentation was excellent, and gave me some references which I had never seen before. I do not expect SLE to support the petition, but I met both the representative of SLE and RSPB after the Seminar. My feeling, probably shared by many, is that the SLE representative seems a nice chap, but he is defending the indefensible. It is essential that my paper, which I assume I can submit, must be robust, understandable, and able to demolish any  counter argument put forward about how  the prosecution of wildlife crime is seen by COPFS. I do wish that even before (or if) my petition is approved for later incorporation in legislation at some stage I need to show that the COPFS reasoning is flawed, but the paper must also give strong reasons for the suggested changes.

As it is the duty of Parliament to set legislation, I do not expect that the Crown Office will have a paper, but they may be present in the background, and I personally would like to know their views some of which which were heard at a meeting of the ECCLRC in January of this year. I have sought their views previously without success.

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An quick update after the first day.

I have been had several helpful replies to my emails.

When I started the blog it was just a wish to publicise the petition which seemed to be dragging on. My researches (o.k. a google search) uncovered that the Poustie recommendations were on the Scottish Government’s Programme for Scotland 2017-18.  This would be the opportunity for one of the two parts of the petition to be enacted without much delay and thus seemed to me to be very urgent, and possibly too late to influence.  One of the replies included an update from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform which made clear that this is not the case as the legislation had not yet been prepared so my panic is over, and I can just wait until my petition proceeds through the system. I can then wait until it hopefully reaches the relevant committees. It would only reach panic stations again if the legislation appears before the petition reaches any parliament committees.

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New blog started on 14th July to promote my Petition, who can help and why.

I first decided to set up this website yeterday as I had been waiting what I thought was a long time. I was also concerned about the possibility that the Poustie report would reach the Scottish Parliament. I googled for it yesterday to find that it is listed to reach the Parliament in year 2017/2018.

I do not know if it has been passed, and it may already be too late.

One of the recommendations is that the maximum penalty for wildlife crime be increased to 2 years from 6 months. My petition has 2 aims, one is to increase the penalty to 3 years which would satisfy the concerns expressed by the Police representative at a meeting of the ECCLRC this year.

It is now too late for my petition to go through the process and hope to catch the optimum timing, which could I assume be achieved by an amendment to the proposal.

I have sent a link to this blog to my MSPs, the members of the ECCLRC and the Cabinet secretaries for Environment and Justice, and to the speakers at a Law Seminar on these matters at Aberdeen University.

I do not know any MSPs personally, and can only hope that it can be arranged that someone proposes an amendment to the bill as it comes to the chamber.

I’m sure that the person proposing the amendment could come from any party, as the change make a great deal of sense, and it would be dreadful to leave the Police force still powerless to investigate wildlife crime properly, as they have clearly indicated.

The difficulty is then that the amendment needs to pass by a majority. I would be the first to admit that the subject is unlikely to be a first priority for any MSPs.

I can only hope to reach a few MSPs by means of this blog.

My miracle solution is this.

Although any party is likely to propose the amendment, I feel that it is likely that the Tory Party will ask all its MSPs to vote against this, not because it does not make sense, but many of the people in Scotland whom it represents will not wish this to be passed for the obvious reason.

Thus I would ask the senior party members of all other parties to ensure that their members vote for the amendment if I or someone else can find someone to propose it. They would look pretty stupid if they let it fail for lack of interest.

I know it is not much, and I may be wrong about the conservative party, but it could work, and it is just like me to suggest it.

Here is the wording of the email sent today:

“Petition to the Scottish Parliament – Wildlife Crime

I am writing to you …. about a petition which I submitted to the Scottish Parliament on 15th March 2018.

I am not aware of how long a petition normally takes but each time I have telephoned I have been assured that it is a valid petition which is almost at the front of the queue but not quite yet.

My only concern over the delay, if indeed it is being delayed, is that the report available from a Review Group which was set up in the context of a Ministerial commitment to enhance the enforcement of wildlife crime particularly in relation to the level of penalties imposed. The Group, chaired by Professor Mark Poustie of Strathclyde University reported in 2015. It is expected that at some stage the penalty for wildlife crime will be increased to 2 years. This is not enough. If the penalty is less than 3 years it is not regarded as a serious crime and the police are limited in what action they can take in respect of a reported possible crime. They cannot, for instance, set up covert video cameras, and the searches they can undertake in detection of crime are more limited unless a crime is considered serious.

My petition seeks to increase the penalty to 3 years.

Further information may be found in a website I have set up to support the petition because the delay is starting to concern me. At least if you are aware of my concern if the Poustie recommendations come to the chamber you would be able to make yourself aware of the issue.

I need someone to propose an amendment to the recommendations, and am considering how to get an amendment to succeed, if I can get it into the chamber. I think I may have designed a foolproof way to have this happen, and will write an article later today once I have got my thoughts together.

The website is located at :

https://amilne.co.uk/Wildlifecrime/

I would be grateful if you could find the time to read at least part of the information. It would be a long read unfortunately due to the complex subject, but is divided into small chunks as posts.

Best Regards

Alex. S. Milne”

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

Wildlife and Countryside Act  1981. (WCA) Section 1 is titled. “Protection of wild birds, their nests and eggs”, and is the likely Act under which a prosecution would take place.

Section 19 of the WCA says “A constable who enters any land in the exercise of a power conferred by this section—
(a)may—
(i)be accompanied by any other persons, and
(ii)take any machinery, other equipment or materials on to the land,for the purpose of assisting the constable in the exercise of that power,
(b)may take samples of any articles or substances found there and remove the samples from the land.”

Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This legislation and the associated Scottish Outdoor Access Code governs what activities may be conducted by people under Scots “Right to roam”.

The Criminal Justice Act 1972 Part III section 33 defines “Public place” includes any highway and any other premises or place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000. This legislation in Scotland does not apply to any NGO or to a member of the public but these sections of these documents may be of interest:

OSC’s 2016 Procedures & Guidance document Section 279 states:

“Surveillance of persons while they are actually engaged in crime in a public place is not obtaining information about them which is properly to be regarded as “private”. But surveillance of persons who are not, or who turn out not to be, engaged in crime is much more likely to result in the obtaining of private information about them.”

Covert Surveillance and Property Interference Code of Practice is mainly applicable to police operations. Section 1.14 of the code states:

“RIP(S)A provides a statutory framework under which covert surveillance activity can be authorised and conducted compatibly with Article 8. Where directed surveillance would not be likely to result in the obtaining of any private information about a person, no interference with Article 8 rights (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, his home and his correspondence”) occurs and an authorisation under RIP(S)A is therefore not appropriate.”

General Licence Restrictions Framework for Implementing Restrictions. This is a Scottish Natural Heritage document governing the issuing of general licence restrictions..

This was used in when General Licence restriction 02/2017 was issued to an individual for 3 years from 15 September 2017 which prohibits them from using General Licences during that period. It most likely relates to an unknown person who in March 2014 was filmed setting illegal traps close to a goshawk nest on Tillypronie estate.

The Spring Traps Approval (Scotland) Order 2011 lists in the schedule the types of traps which may legally be used, and the conditions which are attached to the use.

Examples of case law which may be applicable.

Lawrie versus Muir 1950 JC 19:
“Irregularities require to be excused, and infringements of the formalities of the law in relation to these matters are not lightly to be condoned. Whether any given irregularity ought to be excused depends upon the nature of the irregularity and the circumstances under which it was committed. In particular, the case may bring into play the discretionary principle of fairness to the accused which has been developed so fully in our law in relation to the admission in evidence of confessions or admissions by a person suspected or charged with crime.”
The courts must balance “the interest of the citizen to be protected from illegal or irregular invasions of his liberties by the authorities, and the interest of the State to secure that evidence bearing upon the commission of crime and necessary to enable justice to be done shall not be withheld from courts of law on any merely formal or technical ground.”

Stewart v. Payne 2017 SLT 159

This decision was quoted by COPFS in the letter to the ECCLRC.  “It is important in the public interest that prosecutors exercise their judgment independently, robustly, forensically and objectively on the whole evidence available”.

Further reading.

Irregularly obtained real evidence: The Scottish solution? by Peter Duff School of Law, Aberdeen University which says:

“Thus, despite over 50 years having elapsed since Lawrie, in Scotland we are in a position where the leading text on evidence simply lists, without further explanation, a series of factors which the courts may take into account in determining whether to excuse an irregularity and admit improperly obtained evidence. These include: the gravity of the crime; the seriousness of the irregularity; the urgency of the investigation; the likelihood of the evidence disappearing if not seized immediately (which is connected to the previous factor); the authority of those obtaining the evidence; the good faith of the investigators; and the question of fairness to the accused (whatever ‘fairness’ means in this context). It is not at all clear from the jurisprudence why each factor is relevant, nor in what circumstances it should be taken into account, nor what weight should be given to it. On examining the relevant cases, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the decision whether to admit improperly obtained real evidence is made by courts on the basis mainly of a ‘gut reaction’ which is then rationalised with whatever factor or factors from the list above best justifies the decision. As yet, no principled, logical and coherent regime has emerged in Scotland to guide the courts in the use of their power to admit or exclude irregularly obtained real evidence and it is important that other jurisdictions should learn from this experience which has now lasted for over 50 years.”

The law of evidence, video footage, and wildlife conservation: did COPFS make the correct decisions? Blog by Professor Peter Duff. which states: “Thus, COPFS is faced with the situation where the RSPB has covertly placed surveillance cameras on private land, probably at least partly with the aim of detecting individual instances of criminal behaviour and deterring other potential criminals from engaging in such behaviour in future. Thus, any evidence of a crime recorded by such cameras has been irregularly obtained and would require to be excused by a court before the recording could be admitted as evidence at a criminal trial. “

Raptor Persecutions and Prosecutions Take 2: How investigatory powers legislation read with human rights requirements might explain recent COPFS decision-making. Blog by Dr Phil Glover. This considers RIP(S)A and Human Rights acts aspects.

The Admissibility of Covert Video Data Evidence in Wildlife Crime Proceedings: A “Public Authority” Issue. Blog  by Dr Philip Glover who has had an article published in issue 4 of the 2017 Juridical Review which contains this: “I conclude that however well-intentioned private investigators are in their pursuit of video evidence of criminality, they should, until such times as the Scottish Parliament enacts amended legislation, ‘subcontract’ operational investigation to a relevant public authority. This might be as simple as asking Police Scotland to obtain the relevant authorisation required under the RIPSA before delegating investigative functions back to the investigator under supervision. ”

Abandoned hen harrier case – comment. Blog of Alan Stewart. In the post he states: “If anything positive can be taken out of this infuriating incident it demonstrates even more strongly the need for effective sanctions against wildlife crime on grouse moors. It is to be hoped that Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, will consider this as yet another extreme difficulty in convicting wildlife criminals, especially on driven grouse moors. I am so fed up with repeated wildlife crimes related to shooting estates that I’d much rather driven grouse shooting was banned altogether, though if this incident and the absence of a satisfactory outcome helps licence driven grouse shooting then we may consider there has been some sort of a result.” There are also several relevant comments about the post.

 

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Tillypronie Estate

When I submitted the petition I did not know about the video evidence of a possible offence on Tillypronie Estate.

This information came into the public domain on Monday 2nd April 2018 in an article published by the Guardian

This fits into the same category as the failed prosecutions which involved video evidence.

The possible offence took place in March 2014. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) issued a personal restriction in September 2017.

I do not know who the person is, and do not want to know.

I would like to know the following to assist in my understanding, which I will explain.

Was he charged by the police?

My understanding is that a report would go to the Procurator Fiscal, who would decide whether to prosecute the person arrested.

At that time the person would be required to attend court if the matter is charged at Summary Level (heard before a Sheriff only) then there would be a ‘Pleading Diet’ to tender their plea.

At this stage the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 requires that a trial is commenced within 12 months of the first appearance of the accused on petition in respect of the offence.

I assume that if the prosecution was started that information would be in the public domain, and the public would have known. I was not aware of a case going through the courts. It could be that a reporting restriction was placed on the court case, which seems strange as I can think of no reason this could have happened in an offence of this nature.

Did the police report the possible offence to Scottish Natural Heritage, once a decision had been taken not to prosecute, under the information sharing protocol? The information sharing protocol is mentioned in this  document.

As the personal restriction was only handed down in September 2017 it is reasonable to assume that something was going on in the intervening 3 years.

Is it correct that the COPFS seems to have taken over 3 years to decide whether to prosecute?

If that is the case then this case should be examined in the same way as the other 2 cases, as they were decided together or very close together before May 2017.

Is the decision in this case guiding the other 2 cases, which, although each is required to be  decided on its own merits, are so similar that a different decision in one case could not be explained?

Why was this person handed a personal restriction on the General licence?

Scottish Natural Heritage have on their website a document entitled “General Licence Restrictions – Framework for Implementing Restrictions”

I have read this several times. When combined with the possibly correct information from the Guardian I have concluded that the person could have been handed a personal restriction because by the time the police had informed SNH of the offence the owner of the estate at the time of the offence had sold the estate. 

Because there is no information in the public sphere, as none of these cases have been decided in court, although only the Tillypronie case has been kept as a state secret, the reasons that this case has not come to court is impossible to decide. It only makes it more imperative for the Crown Office to permit cases to come to court to allow these matters to be decided in a more public forum.

Addendum. In England and Wales, there is a memorandum of understanding published by PAW containing 4.4“Police forces will identify wildlife crimes when they are submitted to the CPS for decision and that all cases within the National Wildlife Crime Priorities (save for poaching which will be dealt with by local arrangement) should be referred to the CPS for a charging decision. This will ensure that the CPS regional Wildlife Coordinator will be aware of ongoing investigations and cases.“ I cannot find a similar document for Partnership Against Wildlife Crime Scotland.

It may add to the probability however, that the gamekeeper was not charged due to an intervention from COPFS, even if the police believed they had enough evidence to charge an individual. The memorandum of understanding postdates the decision in the Tillypronie case, and allows in England a similar decision to be made, where it is considered “sensitive”.

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The abandoned cases.

In 2014/15 George Mutch was convicted and imprisoned for killing a Goshawk and other offences whilst employed as a gamekeeper on the Kildrummy estate in Aberdeenshire. There was no vicarious liability conviction associated with this crime, most likely due to a possible inability to determine whom to charge. During the trial, the COPFS prosecutor argued strongly the the video evidence should be accepted in court, and it was accepted. The present head of COPFS, Sara Shaw, said “COPFS will continue to prosecute such cases where appropriate to ensure that offenders are brought to justice.”

In this case a concealed camera had been placed by RSPB which was trained upon the location(s) where possible crimes may have occurred. The law has not changed since that time in respect of the cases considered here.

In June 2013, Stanley Gordon, a gamekeeper on the Cabrach estate in Aberdeenshire was alleged to have appeared in a covert video where it appeared that he shot the female hen harrier as it left the nest. The RSPB said they were trying to find out why hen harrier nests failed. The police charged Mr Gordon, but after 9 court appearances, all charges were dropped by COPFS in May 2017.

In 2015 Craig Graham, a gamekeeper on the Brewlands estate is alleged to have set a pole trap to catch raptors. RSPB employees passed the location of the trap, use of which has been banned for many years. They unset the trap, set a concealed camera, and informed the police. Some days later, the police and RSPB returned and removed the trap. The video on the concealed camera allowed the police to charge Mr Graham. The case was first called in March 2016 and after several trial dates were abandoned, COPFS discontinued the case in May 2017.

In March 2014 a gamekeeper of Tillypronie Estate was alleged to set a trap near Goshawk nest on the estate. This was seen on a camera concealed by the RSPB. This case is considered here because, although no details have been officially made public, it has several similarities to the abandoned cases. It is therefore not known whether the gamekeeper was charged, or whether a report was made to COPFS. The gamekeeper was probably the person who received a personal restriction on the General Licence preventing him from carrying out a lot of activities normal for a position as a gamekeeper. This restriction was not applied until September 2017, more than 3 years after the possible offence. It is not unreasonable to believe, therefore, that his case was considered by the Crown Office at the same time as the other 2 cases above, and the same determination made. This case is considered more fully in another post.

There may yet be other cases of which the public is not aware.

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Timeline

Timeline

August 2012 George Mutch seen on a concealed camera placed by the RSPB killing Goshawk and committing other offences.

January 2013, written by DI Nevin Hunter NWCU
“The concerns I have about several recent and ongoing cases of raptor persecution go beyond issues of deliberate poisoning/pesticide abuse and into such areas as illegal shooting and trapping. My concerns and those of my team centre on the role that the RSPB Investigations Team has/is playing in all of these cases. I will not go into the specific issues of each case, but there is a pattern whereby neither the NWCU nor Natural England are being made aware by PWCO’s and other Police officers of developing cases until enforcement actions such as warrants have already been taken or are imminent.”
“Over the next few months I will be working on developing the SOP for the Police. I will involve you all directly in this to ensure the document reflects the need for a close working relationship between us.”

June 2013 Stanley Gordon, a gamekeeper on the Cabrach estate appeared in a covert video where it appeared that he shot the female hen harrier as it left the nest. The police charged Mr Gordon, and there were 9 court appearances.

July 2013 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.

March 2014 Gamekeeper of Tillypronie Estate (TG) alleged to set trap near Goshawk nest on the estate. This was seen on a camera concealed by the RSPB.

January 2015 Sara Shaw of the Crown Office procurator fiscal service (COPFS) says  in relation to the custodial sentence after the conviction of George Mutch “COPFS will continue to prosecute such cases where appropriate to ensure that offenders are brought to justice.”

July 2015 Craig Graham, a gamekeeper on the Brewlands estate was alleged to have been seen placing a bait on an illegal pole trap. Camera placed by RSPB. Many provisional trial dates set.

September 2015. A memorandum of understanding on the prevention, investigation and enforcement of Wildlife Crime between Natural England Natural Resources Body for Wales, The Crown Prosecution Service, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council was issued. It is not known if a similar document existed in Scotland, and cannot locate an earlier version. It contains 4.4 :“Police forces will identify wildlife crimes when they are submitted to the CPS for decision and that all cases within the National Wildlife Crime Priorities (save for poaching which will be dealt with by local arrangement) should be referred to the CPS for a charging decision. This will ensure that the CPS regional Wildlife Coordinator will be aware of ongoing investigations and cases.“ This gives CPS an opportunity to prevent charges being brought even where the police may believe they have sufficient evidence available to them, and may not be entirely innocent.

August 2016 Tillypronie Estate goes on sale, the property employing the gamekeeper alleged to set a trap in March 2014.

May 2017 COPFS drops the cases against Stanley Gordon and Craig Graham.

May 2017 David Harvie, Crown Agent writes to the Justice committee “I was heartened to read that the Committee concluded that the public can have confidence in an effective, rigorous, fair and independent COPFS.”

May 2017 The convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLRC)  wrote to the COPFS seeking clarity over the decision to drop the cases cases and admissibility of evidence on wildlife crime.  

Sept. 2017 General Licence restriction 02/2017 was issued to an individual for 3 years from 15 September 2017 which prohibits them from using General Licences during that period. This is likely to be the unknown individual  who in March 2014 was filmed setting illegal traps close to a goshawk nest on Tillypronie estate.

January 2018 The ECCLRC held a meeting on 16 January 2018 about the 2016 Wildlife crime report. This meeting was the basis of my request for 2 changes to Scottish Law. I had previously considered and distributed to the ECCLRC proposals for several other changes. I hope other changes may not be needed if these changes are enacted.

Feb. 2018 Issued a revised document to the ECCLRC members revising down the number of changes to the law.

March 2018 Petition submitted.

April 2018 Article  in the Guardian about the three-year restriction on unnamed keeper on Philip Astor’s Tillypronie estate after incident with baited trap.

16th August 2018 Petition goes live and is open for signatures until 26th September. Website at https://bit.ly/2KZxni9

 

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Video evidence being decided in court

Video evidence has been available which could have been used as corroboration on at least 2 occasions, and at least one other is known about the fate of which is unknown. The COPFS in conjunction with the Crown Office did not allow these 2 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.

It should be noted that at present the Crown Office and COPFS have decided to act in place of the Courts in deciding that this covert video evidence wss inadmissible. The petition seeks to allow courts to make this decision.

The Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) detailed in a letter  to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (ECCLRC) committee the reasoning behind refusing to allow the cases before the courts which had video evidence available.
During the 2018 meeting discussing the wildlife crime report for 2016 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. 

It should be noted that at present the Crown Office and COPFS have decided to act in place of the Courts in deciding that this covert video evidence was inadmissible. The petition merely  seeks to allow courts to make this decision. It should be noted that the team did not agree. Court is the place to decide such matters, surely.

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Greater powers for the police in investigating wildlife crime.

At present there is a report available from a Review Group which was set up in the context of a Ministerial commitment to enhance the enforcement of wildlife crime particularly in relation to the level of penalties imposed. The Group, chaired by Professor Mark Poustie of Strathclyde University reported in 2015.

It is expected that at some stage the penalty for wildlife crime will be increased to 2 years.

This is not enough. If the penalty is less than 3 years it is not regarded as a serious crime and the police are limited in what action they can take in respect of a reported possible crime. They cannot, for instance, set up covert video cameras, and the searches they can undertake in detection of crime are more limited unless a crime is considered serious. The petition requests that the offence for wildlife crime be increased to 3 years. If this petition is much more delayed then it could be that the recommendations of the report will be enacted and a chance will be lost to put it through the Scottish Parliament without much delay.

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 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.

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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

 

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