The general principles of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill have been approved by the Scottish Parliament. The Bill, once enacted, will make several changes to the law relating to animals in Scotland. Several of those changes will be of note to land and rural business owners.
Transfer, treatment or destruction of seized animals without a court order
An animal (either commercial or domestic) can be seized by an enforcement authority, such as the SSPCA, where they consider the animal to be suffering or likely to suffer. Currently, a court order is required to allow any such animal to be sold, rehomed or destroyed. The Bill would shift the need to take court action away from the SSPCA and on to the animal owner.
Under the new provisions, the owner of such animals would be served with a notice indicating an intention to take specific steps in relation to the animals. Those steps could include treatment, sale, rehoming or destruction. Unless the owner appeals the notice or secures an order for release from a court within a specified time, the enforcement authority would be permitted to implement the steps set out in the notice.
In those circumstances, compensation to the owner of the animals would be payable at market value, subject to the deduction of certain expenses, such as the cost of any treatment administered. Market value would be determined by the enforcement authority, but any dispute as to entitlement to compensation could be the subject of an appeal to the Sheriff Court.
Where the cost of any expenses exceeded the market value, no compensation would be payable to the owner, but nor would the owner have to make up the difference by paying the expenses of the enforcement authority. Where a person was convicted of certain offences the court would have the power to order the forfeiture of any compensation that would otherwise be due.
Increase in penalties for wildlife and animal welfare offences
The Bill would increase the sentences for a significant number of wildlife offences, including those relating to birds and eggs, badgers, deer, and the hunting of wild animals with dogs.
For certain of these offences, the maximum sentence would increase to one year imprisonment and / or a fine of up to £40,000. For those offences considered by the Scottish Government to be the most serious, such as those involving the injuring or the unlicensed killing or taking of wild animals, the maximum sentence would be increased to 5 years imprisonment and / or an unlimited fine.
There would also be an increase to the maximum penalties for the offences relating to causing unnecessary suffering and animal fighting. While currently the maximum sentence for these offences is 12 months imprisonment and / or a fine of up to £20,000, under the Bill, the maximum sentence would also be increased to 5 years imprisonment and / or an unlimited fine.
Fixed Penalty Notices
The Bill would give a power to the Scottish Government to implement a system of “Fixed Penalty Notices” for certain animal health and welfare offences. Fixed Penalty Notices are effectively spot fines, often used in other sectors, which could be issued by enforcement officers as an alternative to a criminal prosecution. The particular animal health or welfare offences for which a Fixed Penalty Notice would be an available disposal are yet to be determined. The Scottish Government has indicated though that it considers such notices may be suitable for “relatively minor or technical offences”, such as a failure to comply with record keeping requirements or other infringements that do not involve direct harm to animals.
The Bill has not yet completed all the stages of the parliamentary process. It may be that provisions are amended or added.