Animal Welfare Offences

Animal welfare law can be a minefield for those unfamiliar with these types of situations. Allegations in this area can sometimes lead to Magistrates’ court cases lasting in excess of a year. This is normally due to the involvement of numerous experts and specialists.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 allow the police to remove animals from a property at an early stage. This usually involves the animal or pet being placed in the care of the RSPCA even before any interviews have been held with the owners by the investigating authorities.  Nicholls & Nicholls offer advice and assistance in retrieving those pets and placing them back in your care as well as the interview and investigation process conducted.

The most frequent animal welfare prosecutions fall under Section 4 (causing unnecessary suffering) and Section 9 (duty of person responsible) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and Section 1 (dog breed) of Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. We are seeing more frequently that prosecutions are occurring for those accused of ‘puppy farming’ and the implications of potentially not being able to own animals following conviction.  

RSPCA Prosecutions

The RSPCA is the second largest prosecuting authority in the UK, after the Crown Prosecution Service and is recognised in the Court system as an organisation bringing private prosecutions against individuals and businesses in breeding cases.

The RSPCA will usually attend properties without notice and are normally present with police officers and a warrant to search your home and land. Without accompanying police officers and a warrant, you should consider your position on whether to allow the RSPCA access to your premises or to interview you under caution.  As they are a recognised charity, they have no lawful authority to be at your premises without a warrant. 

There are very few circumstances where police officers can enter your home or land without a warrant, and is limited to instances when there is a real belief of current suffering to the animal or pet. Usually, a veterinarian has produced what is known as a Section 20 certificate to allow entry to happen. Nicholls & Nicholls can assist you with this process and provide advice that will preserve and secure your position in law.

Offences contrary to the Animal Welfare Act can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court. If convicted of an offence, the prosecuting authority will almost always consider ancillary orders. These allow the Court to disqualify a person from keeping a specific type of animal, or all animals for any period of time, including indefinitely.  It must be necessary however for this to be put in place.  We have the expertise and knowledge to advise and provide representation in dealing with these issues.

Nicholls & Nicholls have extensive experience in defending animal welfare cases brought by the RSPCA. Most recently, our client’s pet dog was seized by the RSPCA due to reports of suffering. However, on receiving the veterinary report initiated by us, the vet confirmed the dog was in extremely good health with absolutely no signs of suffering.  In fact, the vet went as far as to say that the dog was a very happy animal and was surprised at the content of the RSPCA officer’s statement saying the contrary. We therefore convinced the RSPCA to offer no evidence and the client was reunited with his dog.

Dangerous Dogs Prosecutions

Prosecutions under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 often relate to the appearance and breed of a dog. This legislation is extremely controversial and badly implemented as it punishes dogs based on their breed or the number of characteristics they have that are linked to banned breeds. There is absolutely no link to the behaviour of the dog which consequently can have devastating consequences on the pet and the owners.

Cases of this nature can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court and could relate to dogs found on both public or private property.

Experts are always involved with these types of cases. The prosecuting authorities provide evidence in expert reports stating that the particular dog shows enough of the relevant characteristics for them to be euthanised. If this occurs, the Court orders a Destruction Order unless we can refute their reports and evidence.

Destruction Orders are ancillary orders after a court finds against the defendant’s evidence and is certain that the dog has the characteristics of the breed that is banned. There are, however, opportunities to convince the Court to put in place a Contingent Destruction Order. This is when we compile evidence showing that the dog can remain alive but with conditions on the owners as to how the dog is to be cared for in and out of the home.

Nicholls & Nicholls understand that cases brought under this legislation can be completely without fault and come with heavy burdens for the owners of these dogs. It can also be extremely emotional when a family pet unexpectedly becomes subject to these sorts of investigations with a risk of death.

We have a strong network of the best experts available to assist with veterinary and behavioural assessments to demonstrate to the court that these dogs can be placed on orders that allow them to remain living and within their regular homes.

Local Authority Prosecutions

Local Councils and Local Authorities can prosecute individuals and businesses for allegedly breaching regulations for noise nuisance, environmental health issues, waste disposal and breeding regulations.  Sometimes, individuals find a complaint and investigation occurring due to constant dog barking, or the standard of enclosed outdoor areas viewable to neighbours or members of the public.

Farmers, dog breeders, and those who normally have more than one animal at their property can also find themselves being investigated for numerous types of offences and require assistance in liaising with these authorities and ensuring that the regulations are not in breach. Normally, a request is received for an interview to take place under caution from the local authority who are alleging offences being committed.

Nicholls & Nicholls are aware of the difficulties that can occur in these environments and the upset it can cause to the running of a business coupled with the stress on those animals, especially if animals are removed or seized. We can offer assistance and represent you and your animal’s best interests during interviews and proceedings with organisations.

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