This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Who sets the priorities... really?

I have been doing some research into the controversial story about the RSPCA and the hunting conviction this morning. It seems as if the Crown Prosecution Service were given all the diligently collected evidence but chose not to prosecute (resources.. priorities… politics…?) As a consequence the RSPCA pursued a private prosecution against members of the Heythrop Hunt who were convicted a few days ago. I imagine that the RSPCA assumed they would be awarded costs, but the judge decided not to:

Judge Pattinson said: “It is not for me to express an opinion...” before swiftly doing so. “But I do find it to be a quite staggering figure.” He also suggested that “members of the public may feel that RSPCA funds can be more usefully employed”. (Link here)

Some (pro hunting, I believe) MPs are now seeking a review by the Charity Commission as to whether charity rules were broken by the RSPCA. (Link here) Other aspects of the story can be found here, here and here.

For me it all comes down to priorities: both within the RSPCA and the criminal justice system (CPS & Police). Who is it that finally decides where scarce resources should be spent, and then who is responsible for the consequences…? (For your information, the RSPCA had an annual income of £116m for the year ending in 2011)

It is no surprise that this story is being hotly debated on many blogs. On the one hand the law was being broken and therefore the CPS should have pursued a prosecution. On the other hand, the CPS (and the police) have limited resources and probably prioritise crimes against people more than crimes against animals. It is probably far more complex than that of course. But in the space left by the decision not to mount a public prosecution, the RSPCA stepped into bring a private prosecution instead. Were they right to do so?

It will be interesting to see what now happens. In my experience the pro-animal campaigners are a very tenacious bunch and I would imagine complaints about the District Judge have already been submitted, alongside complaints about the RSPCA being submitted by a cross party group of MPs…

And then in amongst all this, where does the PCC sit? This issue was briefly raised during the election campaign when one candidate said that she would be asking her Chief Constable not to spend resources on policing badger culls as that would not be a priority if she were elected. But is that a strategic matter or an operational one? Is this a matter of professional judgement or political calculation? Ethics or accountancy?

I watch with interest!

(For the record, as a vegetarian, I am naturally against all blood sports and I believe the law banning fox hunting should be upheld. However this matter has more far reaching consequences in my opinion.)

1 comment:

  1. During my campaign I was approached by a number of supporters of animal rights (well 270) to ascertain my views on wildlife animal crimes and someone from the countryside alliance and I met someone who shoots for a hobby. My response to them all which received a overwhelmingly positive response was that neither I nor Sussex Police could choose which laws we supported. However the available resources do not extend to pursuing each and every crime and so I would want to sit down with both sides of the debate along with the wildlife officers from Police and RSPCA to ensure that I was doing all I could to support lawful behaviour in all situations. Both Hunt Sabs and Countryside Alliance claimed to be willing to do this and actually welcomed my proposal. Sadly I was not able to test out how willing they were in practice.

    I believe the Judge is wrong to act as both Judge and Critic in the same issue. I also believe (or hope) he would not take the same line on a case which involved children if the NSPCC was forced to pursue the case for any reason. No charity can know the outcome of a Court case at the outset, but charities should not be prevented from entering into such an arrangement just because of the opinion of a Judge and a few commentators including the ex leader of Oxford CC who I know well and was as wrong as the Judge in his views expressed on twitter. Equally the Judge was within his rights not to award costs to the RSPCA. What is a real travesty in the case is the extent of costs within our Courts system on this or indeed most Court cases.