Examination of Witnesses

Part of Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:11 am on 23rd July 2019.

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Mike Schwarz:

Obviously, we are talking about sentencing here rather than defences. That is the starting point for now, but I agree entirely with your example about the rabbit, or the hare. If we think of a rabbit or a hare that is kept in a hutch by a child and that is being mistreated by the father, why should he be liable to such a significantly greater sentence than if he had just gone into a field to injure and be deliberately cruel to a wild hare? One can think of lots of other examples. You have heard the evidence already, but that encapsulates the problem of, why should things be treated differently? But it goes wider than that.

One disparity, which I am sure you are aware of, is that if one increases the sentence beyond six months—again, I am not saying that that should not happen; in fact, quite the opposite—that entitles a defendant to a Crown court trial. Therefore, a defendant—let us say the abuser of the rabbit in the hutch—would be entitled to a Crown court trial, whereas the abuser of the rabbit or hare in the field would not. That starts playing into the substance of the criminal justice process where one is entitled to a jury for apparently random reasons as a result of this perhaps artificial, though it appears inevitable, distinction that has been drawn.

One can think of other ways that the system is distorted, particularly for judges when they come to sentencing, or even for prosecutors when they decide whether to prosecute. For example, in the case of catching a badger or a fox for no other reason than for dogs to kill it, if one focuses on the impact on the fox, that is, arguably, in the wildlife area where there is a maximum sentence of six months. The fox dies. If one looks at the impact on the dogs that are controlled by a hunt or the abusers, they are “under the control of man”, as the Act says, and therefore if one focuses on the injury to the dogs, which invariably will survive, the maximum will be five years. That throws up another point, which is the question that was discussed earlier: what “under the control of man”, according to the terms of the Act, means.

For what it’s worth, and this has no legal weight as I don’t have any legal authority for saying it, my view is that just because a badger or a fox is caught, and if it is caught simply for the purpose of baiting and killing it, that does not make it not a wild animal, because that is part of the offence, otherwise every single offence would be caught by the protected species and domesticated animals provision. It might be different. If, for example, the fox or the badger was already in a domesticated or controlled setting and was then set upon, it might be different, but that plays into the point that because of the disparities in sentencing, any prosecutor in court, and particularly a judge sentencing, would need to bear in mind those considerations about what exactly is the definition of “under the control of man”.