Scottish Government ready to increase penalties for wildlife crime – this is significant!

The Scottish Government has recently launched a short public consultation, seeking views on a substantial increase of penalties for wildlife crime.

This has been a long time coming. Six years, in fact.

In 2013, the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse commissioned a review on whether penalties for wildlife crime should be increased, as a direct response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution. Professor Mark Poustie submitted his report and a series of recommendations, including a penalty increase, in 2015. The then Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod broadly accepted those recommendations in 2016 and the Scottish Government committed to progressing them in its 2017/2018 Programme for Government.

Now it’s 2019 and we have yet another consultation, although to be fair this consultation is short (opened 19th July, closes 16th August) and judging by this illustration doing the rounds via Scot Gov social media accounts, this consultation appears to be a formality:

Wildlife crime can include barbaric acts of cruelty and can have significant consequences for the
conservation status of protected species. Penalties need to be dissuasive and of personal significance to act
as a deterrent. Time and time again we’ve seen pathetically lenient sentences for raptor persecution that have offered zero deterrent effect and have been of no personal significance to the criminal (e.g. when a shooting estate pays their guilty employee’s fine or when the offender’s employment isn’t terminated) so as far as we’re concerned, a substantial increase in the available penalties is long overdue and would be very welcome. It would also bring Scotland more up to date with countries like Spain, whose Government is not only saying it has zero tolerance for raptor persecution, it’s backing up that claim with massive penalties for those convicted (e.g. see here, here and here).

However, the most significant aspect of these current proposals, as far as we’re concerned, is the five-year custodial penalty. This is big, big news because effectively it would mean that Police Scotland would now have the authority to apply for permission, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 (RIPSA), to install covert cameras on private sporting estates for the purpose of detecting wildlife crime.

Currently, Police Scotland do not have the authority to seek permission to install covert cameras as part of an investigation simply because raptor persecution crimes do not merit a custodial sentence of three years or more. Authority will only be given if the activity is considered ‘proportionate’ and when the crime being detected is considered ‘serious’ (i.e. where the penalty would constitute a term of imprisonment for three years or more).

As we’ve seen in recent years, the RSPB has installed covert cameras at the remote nest sites of specially protected birds of prey and have recorded what is obviously a wildlife crime, but because the RSPB is a charity and not a statutory agency it is ineligible for RIPA/RIPSA authorisation so clever defence lawyers have been able to get cases thrown out of court on technicalities, and more recently some of these cases haven’t even reached court because the Crown prosecutors have decided the footage is inadmissible (e.g. see here and here).

As the legislation stands at the moment, it is not fit for purpose when it comes to detecting raptor persecution crimes in remote landscapes where the landowner may have a vested interest in the commission of that crime. If the Scottish Government amends the legislation to increase the maximum penalty to five years in prison, we would be very, very happy.

We’d encourage as many of you as possible to fill in the short consultation form and encourage the Scottish Government to press ahead with its proposals. Background info and the consultation itself can be found here. Don’t forget it closes on 16th August.

Just a word of warning to the Scottish Government, though. Even if stiffer penalties are applied to those who commit serious wildlife crime, and even if those penalties would be of personal significance to the criminal, their deterrent effect would still be minimal if the offenders still know that the chance of being caught in the act is so slim that this outweighs the risk of committing the offence in the first place. Hopefully the chances of being caught will be significantly increased if the police are able to use covert cameras, but those cameras will only capture certain crimes. There will be plenty of other crimes committed, away from nest sites and other fixed positions such as crow cage traps, and those offenders need to believe that police response times and follow ups will be timely and thorough.

23 Responses to “Scottish Government ready to increase penalties for wildlife crime – this is significant!”

  1. 1 Jeff P
    July 29, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    It wasn’t clear, at least to me, how to respond via the link you provided. I found the following link which allows you to respond online

    • July 29, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks, Jeff. The link given in the blog is for all the background info first, which then leads on to the actual consultation form.

      • August 2, 2019 at 1:10 pm

        Except that it doesn’t. In the publication page that your blog links to, the link at the bottom that is supposed to take you to the consultation just takes you back to the publication page. There is a form in the page which can’t be filled in and a link to download the Respondant Information Form which generates a 404 error. In all it’s a very confusing page which wasted a lot of my time. Linking to the address Jeff provides would be more helpful.

  2. July 29, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    It does appear that a term of 5 years for those persecuting wildlife, and indeed any employer so convicted is now Scottish Government policy. Personally I hope that the extra powers this gives to the police as well as the deterrent effect will finally halt the destruction. If it does not, we need to ensure that the Procurator Fiscal Service is prepared to allow any cases that the police, with their extra powers, manages to put together, actually reach court. That requires, although it should not, some changes in Law. My petition will be to hand for the changes which are needed.

  3. 5 Greyandblue
    July 29, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    Is vicarious liability still a thing ?

  4. 11 Karen Boyle
    July 29, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    Because this it horrendous cruelty, just to let people with money to kill other creatures for fun

  5. 12 crypticmirror
    July 29, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    I’m glad that others are not as infected by cynicism as me, we all know how I feel about this, but for those with more optimism; I hope you are right and your optimism over this is justified. I truly, and sincerely, do. I just wish I could join you in that, and I mean that sincerely too.

  6. 13 alancranston
    July 29, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    This is good. Couple of points. First, I welcome a sort of half-recognition that if detection is problematic the deterrent needs to be commensurately greater. Second, it’s pretty scandalous that it’s presently possible for a gamekeeper to retain a shotgun licence after committing a willdlife crime. If the effect of this reform is to increase the risk in practice of a custodial sentence of three months or more, even if suspended, the gamekeeper will be out of a job for a minimum of five years.

  7. 14 Simon Tucker
    July 29, 2019 at 8:33 pm

    They can increase the penalties all they like but, unless there is a significant improvement in the powers the police have, and a change in attitude to video evidence from non-statutory bodies by the Crown Office, plus a better class of, and better briefed, prosecutor with the determination to get the right result, I cannot see it making a difference. Besides, as we have seen, even when found guilty the judiciary give out the smallest possible penalties, often suspended, probably just in case they lose their invitation to the shoot or the hunt and the associated social events.

  8. 15 Sarah Hill
    July 29, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    We need to cracker down hard on criminals killing our wildlife.

  9. 16 George M.
    July 29, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    I have grave reservations about the possibility, which I will reluctantly call “leaks”, of the knowledge of where the camera’s are finding it’s way to the criminals. If that possibility becomes a reality then we will be no further forward then than we are today. Think how fox hunting has been “policed.”
    Given the history and the sensitivity of the situation it appears that when laws are passed against the rich at play then ways are found which make it almost impossible to effectively police…. more so when powerful hegemonic forces at large.
    This opens the back door and leaves it well ajar.
    Sorry to be such a pessimist but I really cannot see this working if anyone but raptor workers know the location of these camera’s until after a crime has been committed.

    • 17 heclasu
      July 30, 2019 at 1:42 am

      Not pessimist George – Realist!

    • 18 Voice of Reason
      July 30, 2019 at 12:46 pm

      I’m sorry that’s just paranoid nonsense.
      Firstly there is a clear loophole regarding the appropriate use of cameras that will be closed. That doesn’t mean every case will justify it, but some will and that is a very good thing. For one thing it means that raptor abusers will no longer be able to count on a smart barrister getting the video evidence overturned and thus the deterrent effect of ‘maybe there’s a camera’ is strengthened.
      Secondly even if there are some “leaks” as you put it, people will soon figure out who can be trusted in that respect, I’m sure many already know who is their preferred contact in that matter.
      Thirdly it is Tinfoil hat in the extreme to think that anything other than a small minority of wildlife crime officers are likely to sympathise with raptor abusers. Anyone attending the old Tulliallan wildlife crime conferences would know just how frustrated most officers were at how often there wasn’t quite enough evidence to convict, or case was dropped on a technicality. Or indeed their dismay at people like Drummond and his attitude, who sometimes sounded like he thought the police were worse than the wildlife criminals because they weren’t jumping through every buerocratic obstacle thrown in their way.

      This is good, it won’t catch every raptor abuser but it may help catch one or two more and stop a few others.

      • 19 George M
        July 31, 2019 at 6:30 pm

        and you, my friend, appear not to be taking historical patterns into consideration. Having lived in or around grouse moors for a number of years I have first hand knowledge and experience of how hegemonic power functions in these areas and I can assure you my reservations are founded in reality. If those persecuting the nests know there is a camera on a particular nest then they will leave it alone .. and believe you me, they will know if anyone but the raptors workers who placed the camera are privy to the location of the site.
        I’d also disabuse you of the idea that information like this is not recorded, and thus able to be accessed, given other authorities are involved. Once more, I am very aware of how the informal dynamics function when so much money and status are involved. Your “reasoning” assumes” that a loophole will be closed, but only for another loophole in a different area to appear.
        The problem is systemic, Mr. Anonymous, and not particularly confined to any one area or group of people. Most individuals have ambitions and the nod and wink culture is often prevalent in these situations. Anyone, should they wish, can feign outrage should the situation demand it of them but this indicates little when dealing with situations like this. Once more I have my own experience in this area and you appear to have not factored in the amount of money and possible favours that could be granted factored in. There is a military style hierarchy present which means an uncooperative individual could be removed if necessary.
        It would have been possible at any point over the past few years for the Grouse Moor Proprietors to have removed any objections of photographs taken of potentially criminal acts committed on the land that they own and from which, coincidentally, they would gain from, being used in a Court of Law, They have not done so nor indicated that they would be willing too. This indicates an unwillingness of their part to comply with the urgent need to stop these crimes unless forced.
        In today’s world every police operative is not granted unconditional trust simply because he wears a uniform. In the same vein I would never maintain that every police operative was corrupt either .. both types of figure are present. The more money or power involved in a situation the more chance that one of the latter might be involved.
        A much simpler way to solve this problem would be to allow footage from hidden camera’s to be allowed as evidence in a court of law without the permission of the person who owns the land. This resolves the issue of any possible leaks. Anything less is a sop to power and no doubt will have to be revisited at some point in the future … as the foxhunting debacle surely illustrated.
        Why on earth you would not want only the experts to have the knowledge as to where the camera’s are I have no idea as it would resolve all these considerations at a stroke. given the longstanding mistrust between the parties.
        I’m sorry that you felt the need to portray my concerns as being based in antipathy towards the police as that simply muddies the water and is both emotional and wrong. Reason, as you should know, dictates that one makes a law as watertight as possible, and having only one operator eradicates most all of the problems which might ensue. Indeed, it could be extended to allow ANY footage of a crime being committed on a grouse moor taken by any one at any time to be permissible as evidence in a court of law.
        Indeed, for an argument presented by the “Voice of Reason” it is highly emotional and the reason section is based on the premise that everyone does as expected…. which isn’t exactly how events in this area have played out in the past.

    • 20 sog
      July 30, 2019 at 1:10 pm

      One assumes the SatNav trackers will continue in use, and one hopes they will continue to improve in performance. So we can hope they will expose any anomalies.

  10. 21 Fight for Fairness
    July 30, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Yes, this consultation is good news, but as most criminologists will tell you, the greatest deterrent to crime is the likelihood of being caught and ending in court. The fact is that there must be changes in the law to ensure more wildlife criminals face justice. The Werritty Review will be vital in this respect, but was due to report in Spring and only an interim report was published then. It has surprised me that this consultation on penalties is being held before the full review is available. I do have faith in the Scottish Government’s desire to sort this out, but I have warned them that my patience is wearing thin.

  11. 22 Evelyn Dakers
    August 4, 2019 at 9:32 am

    I agree that there should be stiffer penalties for harming wildlife and that they should not be getting away with it. It should not matter that that the proof comes from the RSPB if it shows the crime.

  12. 23 Karen Boyle
    August 4, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    It’s so sad that the government has took so long , we no it’s happening and why , money for the rich shooting and killing the poor grouse, so come on get it done

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