Some good news for a change!
You may remember back in November 2015 the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group published its findings on how wildlife crime in Scotland is dealt with by the criminal justice system. The group concluded that the current system of wildife crime penalties in Scotland is wholly inadequate and the current penalties do not act as a deterrent to would-be offenders. The group produced ten short and medium term recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider, all of which we supported, including a call for increasing the maximum penalty from the current £5,000 to £40,000 (see here for our earlier blog on this).
This morning, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod has responded to the report and has accepted the recommendations. She said:
“Wildlife crime has no place in modern Scotland, this is why I have decided to increase the maximum available penalties to bring wildlife offences into line with other environmental crimes. It is important we have appropriate penalties that deter criminality but also reflect the impact these crimes can have on our environment and Scotland’s reputation as a wildlife tourism destination. Work will now begin on bringing together a list of relevant offences this change would apply to.
We already have the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK, in 2012 we implemented the vicarious liability provisions in relation to offences involving wild birds and we recently secured the second conviction under these provisions. We also funded the pesticide disposal scheme which removed over 700kg of illegally held poisons in Scotland. But I am determined to do even more to end these crimes that threaten the survival of some species and inflict cruelty on others.
I would also like to reiterate my thanks to the wildlife crime penalties review group and to Professor Poustie for their extensive work on this report.”
Further details of the recommendations, and the Scottish Government’s response to each one, can be found in this letter from the Environment Minister to Professor Poustie, the Chair of the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group: Scot Gov response Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Feb 2016
This is a good start. Of course, the devil will be in the detail as the Government considers how to incorporate the necessary legislative changes and also how much pressure it applies on Westminster to make changes for which it has jurisdiction, but at this stage we applaud the Minister’s intent and we’ll follow what we hope will be substantial progress as it’s made over the coming months/years.
But, as we said in November, the legislation alone is not enough. There’s no point having effective deterrent penalties if the enforcement isn’t there to get the wildlife criminals to court to face such penalties. This brings us neatly back to the SSPCA consultation – where are the increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA? When will the Environment Minister be making a decision on this? The consultation closed in September 2014. It’s been sitting on her desk for almost 18 months. The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee has pressed the Minister for an answer (here)…..we’re still waiting…..
RSPB Scotland’s response to the Minister’s announcement here
Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association response here (still pushing for licences to kill protected species, natch)
Scottish Land & Estates response here (still claiming wildlife crime ‘is in decline’, natch)