MPs are to launch a formal enquiry into whether charities should be allowed to investigate and bring charges in cases of animal cruelty in England and Wales.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, animal welfare groups have the power to investigate cases, but the decision to prosecute lies with the state.
The “mini-enquiry” will involve the RSPCA and other animal welfare groups such as Battersea Dogs Home and the Blue Cross.
Lead by Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, he said it is important that the “right cases” were taken to court.
Parish also added: “Sometimes there are cases which we feel they shouldn’t have prosecuted on. Other times we would like to know why they didn’t prosecute.”
Sara-Lise Howe, one of the UK’s leading defence lawyers on animal abuse cases, told the BBC that “the people making decisions are not solicitors or barristers.”
“In state prosecutions there are codes of practice which have to be followed, where prosecution is a last resort. But there is no way to check the RSPCA follow them.”
However, the RSPCA defended what it sees as their “legal right” to prosecute, and says that it saves taxpayers £50 million a year by bringing cases to court.
The RSPCA’s head of public affairs, David Bowles says that “police in England and Wales don’t have the resources – animal welfare is not a high-priority area for them.”
Last year the RSPCA made 1,132 charges against people relating to animal cruelty, making it the second largest prosecutor in the UK behind the Crown Prosecution Service.
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