The televised committee meeting tomorrow at 0915 will not take evidence from me, but the Agenda includes this about my petition. I won’t attend, but will watch. The Clerk note seems fair enough, and can be seen in full on the petitions committee website complete with the necessary links. My hope at present is that it will not fail at this stage and some of the actions listed by the Clerk will be adopted :
PE1705: Wildlife crime – penalties and investigation
Note by the Clerk
Petitioner Alex Milne
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.
1. This is a new petition that collected 365 signatures and 104 comments in support.
2. Wildlife crime is defined by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAW Scotland) (PAW Scotland consists of a variety of organisations including the police, land managers, NGOs and the Scottish Government. Its aim is to address wildlife persecution and habitat destruction.) as “any unlawful act or omission, which affects any wild creature, plant or habitat, in Scotland”. This can range from targeted
persecution of rare species and habitats for financial gain to unnecessary cruelty against common species for sport. A list of offence categories considered to constitute wildlife crime can be found in the Appendix of the most recent Scottish Government Report on Wildlife Crime in Scotland.
3. In 2015-16, there were 261 recorded wildlife offences. This included (amongst
other categories) offences relating to badgers, birds, cruelty to wild animals and
Current penalties for wildlife crimes
4. The maximum penalties for many of the principal offences, for example those
set out in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, are a £5,000 fine and/or up to
six months imprisonment on summary conviction (i.e. by a sheriff sitting alone)
with no option of conviction on indictment (i.e. by a sheriff or judge sitting with a
jury) although there have been penalty increases for newer offences and for
offences involving certain species.
Investigation of wildlife crime
5. Each Police Scotland division has a Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer. Section 19(2)
of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1982 gives a specific power to constables to
enter premises other than a dwelling if the constable has reasonable cause to
suspect that any person is committing or has committed an offence under Part I
of the Act.
6. The police have statutory powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers
(Scotland) Act 2000 and the Police Act 1997 under which they may, when
certain conditions are met, be authorised to undertake covert surveillance.
Scottish Ministers, or the senior authorising officer or designated deputy may
only authorise intrusive surveillance if they believe it meets certain conditions
including, for example, to prevent or detect serious crime. The tests for a
serious crime are set out in section 31(7) of the Regulation of Investigatory
Powers Act 2000 and section 93 of the Police Act 1997—
“(a) that the offence or one of the offences that is or would be constituted by
the conduct is an offence for which a person who has attained the age of
twenty-one and has no previous convictions could reasonably be expected to
be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three years or more;
(b) that the conduct involves the use of violence, results in substantial
financial gain or is conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a
7. The impact of these restrictions (in addition to those imposed by common law)
has been the subject of debate with relation to the admissibility of covert
camera evidence in wildlife crime cases, such as alleged persecution of birds of
prey, both in relation to the ability of the police to detect wildlife crime, and the
admissibility of camera evidence obtained by NGOs.
8. The petitioner in this case suggest that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
should be amended to include a presumption that for any offence under Part 1
of the Act, photographic, audio recording or video evidence should be
admissible. The petition also calls for maximum penalties for wildlife crimes to
be increased to three years to enable them to be treated as ‘serious crimes’ for
the purposes of enabling the gathering and use of evidence.
Scottish Government Action
9. The Scottish Government established a Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group
in 2013 (the Poustie Review) with a remit—
“To examine and report on how wildlife crime in Scotland is dealt with by the
criminal courts, with particular reference to the range of penalties available
and whether these are sufficient for the purposes of deterrence and whether
they are commensurate with the damage to ecosystems that may be caused
by wildlife crime.”
10. The Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group Report was published in 2015. The
Group focused its work on the priority areas identified by the Government –
persecution, badger persecution, illegal trade in endangered species,
freshwater pearl mussels, poaching and raptor persecution.
11. The report includes ten recommendations including increasing maximum
penalties available on summary conviction, at least for the more serious
offences, to at least a £40,000 fine and up to 12 months imprisonment, and
making conviction on indictment more commonly available across the range of
wildlife offences with a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years.
12. The Scottish Government responded to the report in a letter from the Minister
for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in February 2016, and in
relation to the recommendation on penalties stated—
“This issue is clearly at the heart of the issue of penalties for wildlife crime and
we agree with the conclusions in the Report. We will produce a list of the
offences to which we think the recommendation should apply and look to take
this forward in a suitable legislative vehicle in the next Parliament.”
13. The Scottish Government’s 2017-18 Programme for Government stated that
they will progress “Professor Poustie’s recommendations to increase penalties
for wildlife crime”.
Scottish Parliament action
14. PE1615: State regulated licensing system for gamebird hunting in Scotland
(lodged 22 August 2016) calls for the introduction of a licensing system for
gamebird hunting and for the recommendations of the Poustie Review to be
15. The Committee took evidence from the petitioner at its meeting on 27 October
2016 and, after hearing further evidence from stakeholders at its meeting on 8
December 2016, agreed to refer the petition to the Environment, Climate
Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee.
16. The ECCLR took written and oral evidence from the petitioner and stakeholders
in 2017 which focused on the call for a licensing system for gamebird shooting.
The Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit of the Crown Office and Procurator
Fiscal Service wrote to the ECCLR Committee on 30 May 2017 about the
admissibility of evidence in respect of wildlife crime.
17. The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 requires the
Government to lay an annual report on wildlife crime before the Parliament. The
Wildlife Crime in Scotland (Annual Report 2016) was scrutinised by the ECCLR
Committee in January 2018. It is expected that the ECCLR Committee will
scrutinise the 2017 Annual Report in early 2019.
18. In response to a written Parliamentary Question, S5W-06079, in January 2017,
the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
stated that the Poustie recommendation to increase maximum penalties
requires consultation and primary legislation, and that the consultation will be
undertaken during this Parliamentary session.
19. The Committee is invited to consider what action it wishes to take on the
petition. Options include—
• Writing to the Scottish Government to seek its views on the action called
for in the petition
• Seeking the views of other stakeholders on the action called for in the
• Flag the petition to the ECCLR Committee in advance of its scrutiny of
the Wildlife Crime in Scotland (Annual Report 2017)
• Any other action the Committee wishes to take.
SPICe/Clerk to the Committee
Update on 16th October 2018
I have now been advised that the petition is to be considered by the Public Petitions Committee on the 25th October 2018.