The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill became law on 21 July 2020. It was introduced to improve the protection, health and welfare of animals and wildlife in Scotland.

Among the provisions are radical new powers for the authorities to take possession of animals and make permanent arrangements for their welfare without the need to first obtain a court order. As well as significant increases to the penalties for offences, a fixed penalty system will be introduced which will allow the police to issue on the spot fines.

The main changes which may affect those in the farming and other rural economy sectors are as follows:-

Increase in Penalties

For the most serious animal welfare offences, the bill increases the maximum penalties to 5 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. These relate to causing the unnecessary suffering of animals or involvement in animal fighting. The new limits are significantly higher than the current maximum sentence of imprisonment of up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to £20,000.

For less serious animal welfare offences the maximum penalties of imprisonment and/or a fine have also been raised, from 6 months to 12 months imprisonment with fines now limited to £40,000 instead of £5,000.

Similarly, the bill increases sentences for wildlife offences. The most serious wildlife crimes will attract penalties of up to 5 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, while sentences for lesser wildlife offences are increased to 12 months imprisonment or a fine of up to £40,000 or both.

Fixed Penalty Notices

The bill introduces Fixed Penalty Notices for certain less serious animal health, animal welfare and wildlife offences. These will serve as an alternative to criminal prosecution but will still count as a criminal conviction on a person’s record. Failure to challenge any notice within the prescribed time will be deemed as acceptance of the offence.

Regulations will be made in due course prescribing the amount of the fine for each fixed penalty applicable to an offence, the maximum amount of which will be £5,000.

New Enforcement Power in Relation to Animals Taken into Possession

Currently, the police and SSPCA can take possession of ‘protected’ animals (i.e. those commonly domesticated in the UK) if it is immediately necessary to alleviate the animal’s suffering. Thereafter a court order is required for any permanent arrangements to be made such as selling, rehoming or the humane destruction of the animal.

The bill creates an additional power enabling ‘authorised persons’ to take further action (called ‘relevant steps’) without the need to obtain a Court order first. The ‘relevant steps’ are administering treatment to the animal, transferring its ownership to another person or destroying the animal.

The new procedure will entail a notice being served on the owner of the animal detailing the intended step(s) to be taken and the reason(s) why. There is an appeal process in the Sheriff Court which is intended to safeguard the owner’s rights.

Additionally, in some situations where the animal seized has monetary value, the owner will be entitled to compensation after a relevant step has been taken. Again, there is a right of appeal to the Sheriff should a dispute arise.

The intention of this new power is to accelerate the process of making suitable and permanent arrangements for animals taken into care thus improving their welfare in the longer term.

Our Comment

It’s likely that the new system of fixed penalty notices will require that the person who receives one challenge it within a period of a few weeks, with failure to do so deemed as acceptance of the offence having been committed – leading to a criminal record and enforcement of the fine. It will be essential to obtain legal advice immediately in the event of one being issued.

The new powers given to the authorities to make permanent arrangements when they have taken possession of an animal will mean they avoid the cost implications of seeking a court order. This may mean an increase in the incidence of further action unless they are routinely challenged by owners.

The significant hike in the penalties which can be imposed for animal welfare and wildlife offences demonstrate a resolve to reduce the incidence of such offences. These new penalties are intended to make the prospect of being charged with any offence a daunting prospect.

Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.

This is another bill currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament and seeks to update the existing law on ‘livestock worrying’ where sheep and other farmed animals are harmed or killed by dogs.

The proposed amendments include giving additional powers to enforcement and inspecting bodies to investigate this type of offence, increasing the maximum penalties, and allowing the Court to make disqualification orders against a convicted person which will prohibit them from owning or keeping a dog or taking their dogs onto agricultural land where there is livestock.

The Bill is currently at Stage 1 and we will update you further as it progresses through the parliamentary process.