A few days ago, the Scottish Government published (some of) the responses they’d received to their public consultation on whether the SSPCA should be given increased powers to allow them to investigate more wildlife crimes than their current remit allows.
As a quick recap, the SSPCA’s current authorisation (under animal welfare legislation) limits their investigations to cases that involve a live animal in distress. The proposed new powers would also allow them to investigate wildlife crimes under the Wildlife & Countryside Act legislation, e.g. where the victim is already dead, and also incidents where a victim may not be present (e.g. an illegally-set pole trap). See here for further detail.
Note: the Government’s consultation document stated: ‘The SSPCA has indicated that they would not require, or use, powers to stop and search people or powers to arrest people’. This statement is important, and you’ll see why later in this blog post.
We knew, in the long three-year lead up to the consultation, that certain organisations would object to the new increased powers, so it wasn’t any great surprise to read the majority of the responses, although there were a couple of surprises. Here is a list of which organisations were in support of the new powers, and which were not (NB: the responses of ‘individuals’ are excluded from this analysis).
Those in support:
Buglife, Durham Bird Club, Scottish Badgers, OneKind, RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Group, Animal Concern Advice Line, Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, League Against Cruel Sports, National Trust for Scotland.
Those not in support:
Altnaharra Estate, Glenfalloch Estate, Alvie & Dalraddy Estates, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Land & Estates, Songbird Survival, BASC Scotland, GWCT, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Craigswood Game & Deer Management, Scottish Association for Country Sports, National Working Terrier Federation, NFU Scotland, Bat Conservation Trust, Scotland for Animals, Police Scotland.
Those not expressing an opinion:
COPFS, British Deer Society.
The surprises, for us at least, were the Bat Conservation Trust and Scotland for Animals. We would have predicted both of these organisations to have been in the ‘supportive’ camp. Their explanations (as put forward in their formal responses) are a bit bizarre but there you go.
Anyway, those two anomalies aside, it’s pretty obvious that the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ brigade, who all claim to be dedicated to stamping out wildlife crime, are united in their opposition to the SSPCA being given more powers to er, help stamp out wildlife crime. Oh, and Police Scotland is also opposed. Between them all, they’ve put forward a number of similar (actually, mostly identical) reasons to explain their opposition. Those reasons include:
- Accountability (the SSPCA is a charity, not a public body and therefore it’s not publicly accountable);
- Impartiality (the SSPCA campaigns for a ban on snares so therefore couldn’t possibly remain impartial when investigating crimes involving snaring);
- There’s apparently no need for “radical new powers” because there has been a “significant reduction” in wildlife crime;
- Training & competence (SSPCA inspectors don’t undergo the same “rigorous training, selection & vetting” as police officers so they shouldn’t be allowed to undertake criminal investigations);
- SSPCA inspectors don’t have access to forensics, DNA and fingerprint databases, or the Scottish Intelligence Database, which would compromise their investigations and also compromise any on-going police investigation of which the SSPCA may be unaware);
- The SSPCA is “already stretched” and couldn’t cope with more investigations;
- Giving the SSPCA more powers amounts to “un-official policing” and “quasi-policing”;
- Only the police should investigate crime;
- Giving them more powers would “destabilise trust” between PAW partners;
- The SSPCA is “unequipped” to deal with RIP(S)A regulations (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which puts strict controls on when surveillance operations are permitted and how they are to be conducted. These regulations only apply to public bodies, e.g. police, customs);
- There may be resistance from the public, who view these powers as a traditional remit of the police;
- There is concern about whether the SSPCA is subject to the Scottish Crime Reporting Standard;
- It’s just not fair.
The last reason isn’t explicitly stated in the consultation responses but it’s pretty much the subtext of what is being said.
Now, to the casual observer, many of these explanations may sound reasonable and legitimate. “Yeah, only the police should investigate wildlife crime, not a civilian”, right? Wrong.
What all of these huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ organisations (and Police Scotland) conveniently failed to mention was the role, and powers, of the water bailiff.
What’s a water bailiff?
A water bailiff is someone appointed by a District Salmon Fishery Board (DSFB) (or sometimes by Scottish Ministers if a DSFB doesn’t exist in a particular area) to enforce certain national fisheries legislation, amongst other duties, and their remit includes tackling (fish) poaching. Poaching is one of the six national wildlife crime priorities.
There are 41 DSFBs in Scotland, and the members of these Boards are predominantly land owners and/or those who own propriety fishing rights. We’d thoroughly recommend you check out the Board membership lists of some of these DSFBs (using the link above) – there are some familiar names, including certain estate owners, certain estate factors, and certain SLE Directors and representatives! Representatives of other bodies (e.g. SNH, SEPA, National Park Authority) may be invited to join the Boards, but in a non-voting capacity.
The water bailiff is basically appointed to serve the interests of the landowners and fishing rights proprietors. The role of the water bailiff is “virtually that of a policeman”, according to the Water Bailiff training manual. Water bailiffs have statutory powers of entry, search, seizure, and arrest. Yes, you read that correctly – water bailiffs have the authority to arrest someone, and they are also authorised to use handcuffs during the process of arrest. Some may also carry batons!
To become a water bailiff, all you have to do is to read the Water Bailiffs manual and sit a written test based on your knowledge of the training manual. That appears to be it. However, passing this ‘test’ is apparently not a legal requirement; it is simply a policy in the DSFB’s Code of Good Practice.
So, in light of this information, let’s now re-visit the
excuses reasons given by the huntin’ fishin’ shootin’ brigade (and Police Scotland) as to why they object to the SSPCA being given wider powers.
- Accountability. Water bailiffs are accountable to DSFBs, which are not public bodies, in the same way the SSPCA is not a public body. The huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ brigade don’t seem to have a problem with the lack of public accountability of water bailiffs/DSFBs, just with the lack of accountability of the SSPCA. Interesting.
- Impartiality. Water bailiffs are acting in the interests of landowners and fishing proprietors, who have undeniable vested interests, thus, it can be argued that they are not impartial. The SSPCA may well campaign for a ban on snaring but that hasn’t affected their professional ability to successfully investigate crimes involving the illegal use of snares. Here’s one they did just this week.
- The proposed new powers for the SSPCA are not “radical” – nowhere near. They’re merely a small extension to the powers the SSPCA have been using (successfully) for over a hundred years. ‘Radical’ powers might include, say, giving them the power of arrest without a warrant, and authorising the use of handcuffs without a warrant. Now that’s radical.
- There has not been a “significant reduction” in wildlife crime. Far from it.
- Training & competence. Water bailiffs do not undergo the same “rigorous training, selection and vetting procedures” as police officers, even though they have similar powers to the police, and far greater powers than those of the SSPCA, who, remember, “do not require, or use, powers to stop and search people or powers to arrest people”. Interesting that the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ brigade (and Police Scotland) don’t object to such a weak training regime for water bailiffs.
- Water bailiffs don’t have access to forensics, DNA and fingerprint databases, or the Scottish Intelligence Database, which doesn’t appear to compromise their investigations or compromise any on-going police investigation of which the water bailiff may be unaware.
- The SSPCA does in fact have access to forensics, and this tool is frequently used in badger-baiting and dog-fighting investigations, when animal DNA evidence has been used by them to secure a conviction.
- If the SSPCA was ‘already stretched’, they probably wouldn’t have offered their services, free of charge to the public purse, to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes. How thoughtful, though, of the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ brigade (as well as Police Scotland) to show their concern for SSPCA officers’ welfare!
- The role of the water bailiff is arguably “quasi-policing” and “un-official policing” and yet the huntin shootin’ fishin’ brigade (and Police Scotland) don’t seem to have a problem with that.
- Water bailiffs investigate wildlife crime (well, poaching, which many would argue is more about stealing than anything else) so their argument that (wildlife) crime should just be a police matter presumably means the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ brigade will be calling for the withdrawal of water bailiff powers in the very near future.
- There is no trust between PAW partners to “destabilise”.
- Water bailiffs are not equipped to comply with the RIP(S)A legislation because DSFBs are NOT public bodies. However, water bailiffs routinely undertake ‘surveillance’ operations, and indeed their training manual explains how to set an ‘ambush’ for suspected poachers! The huntin shootin’ fishin’ brigade don’t seem to have a problem with this.
- There doesn’t seem to be much (any?) resistance from the public towards water bailiffs enforcing the legislation.
- Are water bailiffs subject to the Scottish Crime Reporting Standard? We doubt it.
So there you have it. The hypocrisy, and the hypocrites, have been exposed.
We await with great interest the Minister’s decision on increasing the SSPCA’s investigatory powers.