NATURAL INJUSTICE — UPDATE ON WILDLIFE CRIME
In January 2015, Scottish Environment LINK published a report on wild life crime. It is split into two papers; 1 - A review of the enforcement of wildlife protection legislation in Scotland and 2 - Eliminating wildlife crime in Scotland. This is a topic close to our hearts; most of us get upset about the ongoing persecution of raptors, the criminal egg collectors and the list continues. I have reproduced below the summaries from both reports. They are well worth reading their entirety.
1 - A review of the enforcement of wildlife protection legislation in Scotland - Summary
Wildlife crime has received an increasing level of media, public and political attention in recent years. In 2008, the Scottish Government published a report entitled Natural Justice containing the results of a joint thematic inspection of the arrangements for preventing, investigating and prosecuting wildlife crime. The report made a number of recommendations for improvement.
Six years after the report's publication, however, many environmental non-Governmental organisations with direct experience of the uncovering, monitoring and reporting of wildlife crime suggest that enforcement measures remain inconsistent and, in many cases, weak and ineffective. To evaluate these claims, Scottish Environment LINK commissioned this evidence-based report.
This report focuses on four specific areas of wildlife crime: those relating to the persecution of badgers, bats, freshwater pearl mussels and raptors. It presents an estimation of the extent of these wildlife crimes, provides an overview of the current enforcement framework, tracks the progress of 148 wildlife crimes reported to the police between 2008-2013 including the process of initial follow-up investigation, prosecution, conviction and sentencing, and presents the on-going concerns of LINK members directly involved with the wildlife crime enforcement process.
Recommendations for future action by the relevant authorities, based on the findings of this report, will be published in a separate document prepared by Scottish Environment LINK and published concurrently with this report.
- The four areas of wildlife crime are under-recorded and the standard of information that is recorded is generally inconsistently collected which limits its usefulness. This is highlighted by the significant discrepancies between the annual crime figures produced by the wildlife NGOs and those produced by the Scottish Government.
- There is an urgent need to re-examine the recording systems in use, not only to increase public confidence in the Scottish Government's figures but also to provide a more accurate evaluation of the extent of wildlife crime.
- Of the 148 confirmed wildlife crimes reported to the police during 2008-2013, 98 (66.2%) are known to have resulted in a follow-up investigation.
- At least 27 wildlife crimes (18.2%) did not result in a follow-up investigation and were effectively ignored. It is feasible that as many as one third of reported incidents were un-investigated.
- The failure to conduct a follow-up investigation was not limited to one particular region but occurred in five of eight regions.
- Of the follow-up investigations that did occur, LINK respondents considered just over one third (35.1%) to have been conducted satisfactorily. Criticisms included delayed police response times (sometimes as long as several months from the initial incident report) leading to the disappearance of evidence, delays exacerbated by un-trained police wildlife crime officers and a lack of seriousness with which senior police officers treat wildlife crime, failure to apply for search warrants, failure to conduct covert searches, poorly-targeted and/or restricted search efforts, the premature disposal of evidence prior to toxicology examination and a chronic failure to communicate with partner agencies either as a result of police under-resourcing and/or politically-motivated deliberate exclusion policies.
- Of the 148 confirmed wildlife crimes, only 20 (13.5%) resulted in a prosecution.
- A minimum of at least 111 crimes (75%) failed to result in a prosecution. The failure rate was consistent across all regions.
- In some instances the failure to prosecute was recognised as a result of the innate problems associated with investigating crime in remote areas, but in many cases the cause of failure was inextricably linked to a poor follow-up investigation.
- Twenty of the confirmed wildlife crimes (13.5%) are known to have reached the prosecution stage and of those, 15 are known to have resulted in a conviction. This figure should be viewed as a minimum as several cases are currently on-going and thus the number of known convictions may increase.
- Many of the sentences were at the lower end of the scale and penalties issued for similar crimes appear to have been applied inconsistently.
- Overall, but with a few noticeable exceptions, there is, amongst LINK members, an overwhelming lack of confidence in the ability of the statutory agencies to adequately investigate wildlife crime and in the willingness of the judiciary to impose meaningful deterrent sentences.
2 - Eliminating wildlife crime in Scotland - List of recommendations
- Government and the wildlife NGOs should urgently discuss, agree and introduce measures to address under-recording; improve the standards for reporting; and introduce consistency across all areas of recording wildlife crime.
- A three-tier classification system should be introduced for use by all agencies, assigning a widely agreed and accepted "confirmed", "probable" or "possible" category to each wildlife crime case, and grading information according to established police systems.
- The Wildlife Crime Annual Reports should include, henceforth, an evaluation of the full extent of wildlife crime in Scotland.
- Police Scotland should review the full complement of Wildlife Crime Liaison Officers (WCLOs) and Wildlife Crime Officers (WCOs) in terms of the basic number of whole-time-equivalent officers dedicated to this area of work. The basic complement dedicated to this area of work as its priority should be stated publicly, and used as a baseline - to be increased if it proves ineffective.
- The complement of WCLOs and WCOs should be rigorously targeted by Police Scotland at the areas where wildlife crime is known to be greatest. Consideration might be given to the feasibility of establishing a national wildlife crime rapid response unit, to be comprised of multi-agency partners who could respond to reports of serious wildlife crime.
- Police Scotland should agree a wildlife crime strategy, in consultation with the wildlife NGOs. The strategy should be intelligence led and carefully targeted at the areas of criminality.
- Police Scotland should improve the basic wildlife crime training modules for all police cadets at the Scottish Police College and ensure compulsory, on-going training for all appointed WCLOs and WCOs.
- The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) should urgently investigate why such a high percentage of cases fail to be prosecuted, and review arrangements for the allocation of its resources and training.
- Follow-up investigations of wildlife crime by Police Scotland should be carefully monitored by COPFS and the expertise of partner organisations should be consistently and fully used. Results of investigations should be fed back to complainants.
- The Wildlife Crime Annual Reports should include cumulative figures for prosecutions brought and the resultant rate of convictions.
- Stiff sentences should be asked for by COPFS to allow for proper consideration of deterrent effect by the courts, and the consistency of sentencing should be carefully monitored by the appropriate authority.
- The Scottish Government should urgently institute confidence building measures and improved partnership working between Police Scotland, COPFS and the wildlife organisations, with clear instructions that the latter are not to be excluded from the process of investigation or prosecution, and their expertise and information sources should be properly and fully utilised in the fight against wildlife crime.
- If the partnership approach is to continue, the Scottish Government should commission research to assess the true extent of the different types of wildlife crime in Scotland and remove any group tainted significantly by association with any area of wildlife crime from PAWS.
- The Scottish Government should, immediately remove poaching from the PAWS remit and deal with it a as a distinct and separate matter.
- The Scottish Government should ensure that preventative measures are assessed rigorously - and targeted effectively.
- The Scottish Government should consider how wildlife crime might become a material consideration within the land reform programme, and how it can be made into a major element within the statutory Land Use Strategy.
- The Scottish Government should consider how any wildlife crime directly connected to land use on a specific piece of land might lead, consistently, to the withdrawal of subsidies associated with land ownership - and should publish, in its annual wildlife crime reports, a summary of Single Farm Payment and other penalties imposed as a result of wildlife crime.
- The Scottish and UK Governments should consider how any wildlife crime directly connected to a land use on a specific piece of land might lead to the withdrawal of fiscal privileges associated with land ownership, as an additional sentence available to the courts.
- The Scottish Government should commission research into codes or fears in individuals and communities around reporting wildlife crime in Scotland, and Police Scotland should consider trials for improving anonymised reporting for wildlife crime specifically.
- Scottish Government and Parliament should consider undertaking a comprehensive review, and possibly a consolidation, of the laws relating to humans, wildlife and land use.
The two reports have drawn a strong reaction from the Crown Office. See the following BBC News report
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