The SHG has had concerns for some time that the RSPCA is being treated as if it has special powers and is a prosecuting agency. This is a serious mistake as it can and has led to personal information being disclosed to an organisation that has no statutory right to see it.
It is difficult to imagine information more sensitive than that which has been disclosed by an individual to the police during an investigation. It is also difficult to imagine anything that could do more damage to the trust the public place in the police and consequently to the ability of the police to gather information if the security of personal information entrusted to the police is no longer perceived as being kept safe and confidential.
Some police forces and branches of the CPS believe that the RSPCA are a prosecuting authority.
Secondly, where an agency is undertaking a prosecution they are permitted under the Data Protection Act 1998 to make a request under Section 29 of the Act for personal information relating to an alleged offender in terms of specific evidence required to further that investigation / prosecution. Where this is a legal request we have a duty to provide relevant information for the judicial process. The information is disclosed purely for the purpose of that investigation / prosecution.
We do not separately record such requests as they would relate to a specific file / recorded crime and detail would only be included on the respective individual file.
We do receive requests purely for criminal record checks from statutory agencies e.g. Local Authorities, Social Services, Social Security / Pensions, Department of Transport etc (this may include the RSPCA on occasions in relation to an impending prosecution in gathering specific evidence of antecedents for a court hearing as required by national legislation) in connection with alleged offenders. We do not record details of the agency (that would be on a specific individuals intelligence file if we have had no other dealings) we purely record as legally obtaining on behalf of an outside agency – the agency is not identified on the check itself. As you are probably aware there is a central government requirement for our involvement in numerous partnerships with other agencies and therefore the number of such disclosures is substantial – unfortunately we do not keep a separate record of when these requests are made.
It seems that Derbyshire Constabulary include the RSPCA in the group of statutory agencies to whom it is required to supply confidential, personal information.
When the SHG was informed that the CPS also believed the RSPCA to be a prosecuting authority we served a Freedom of Information request on the RSPCA as follows:
This is a Freedom of Information request. Please acknowledge receipt of this request.
Please respond wherever possible by e-mail although I have included an address and telephone number below in order to comply with the Act.
I am aware that the RSPCA does not believe that it has any formal obligation under the Act but that it will endeavour to supply information whenever possible.
“Freedom of Information Act 2000”
“The RSPCA does not believe that it has any formal obligation under the Act. It is not a designated public authority. However, we fully support the principle of openness and will endeavour to supply information to enquirers whenever possible.”
“As a charity relying entirely on voluntary donations, we will have to take into account the purpose of any request for information and the costs involved in providing it for the enquirer.”
My questions relate to the role of the RSPCA in prosecutions.
Does the RSPCA bring prosecutions as a private prosecutor or as a prosecuting authority?
You will note that in his evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Flower of the RSPCA stated that the RSPCA prosecutes as a private prosecutor.
“Minutes of Evidence”
“MICHAEL FLOWER RSPCA”
“I will respond to that, if I may, Chairman. The present situation is that the RSPCA prosecutes as a private prosecutor. We do not claim and we do not have any authority from local or central government to act as a prosecutor. We act now as a private prosecutor; if the Bill becomes law we will continue to act as a private prosecutor”
Presumably this was an accurate reflection of the situation at the time, which would imply that if the RSPCA are now a prosecuting authority they have become one since the date of Mr. Flowers evidence? (14 October 2004).
If the RSPCA are now a prosecuting authority, when and how did they become one? From which legislation or source do they derive this power?
Finally, if the RSPCA are indeed a prosecuting authority, does that mean that the RSPCA has a formal obligation to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for at least those aspects of its activities that relate to its public role as a prosecuting authority?
Tel: 0844 700 66 90
In response to the FOI request from the SHG the RSPCA initially sent an automated reply. We have published it below.
The RSPCA’s automated response:
“Thank you for your online enquiry to the RSPCA – please note this is an automated response.
If you reply to us at any time please DO NOT REMOVE the text in the subject field – this will ensure you do not receive a further automated response. However, we would be grateful if you would take time to read the information below.
Due to a reduced level of staffing brought about by the current economic situation, the RSPCA’s advice team is currently being overwhelmed by the volume of online enquiries being received.
We are sorry that there may be a lengthy delay at times in replying to online enquiries but will endeavour to respond to all queries relating to a specific animal welfare issue. Sadly we cannot guarantee to reply to all the general enquiries received.
Please note that reports of cruelty or neglect, sick or injured animals, requests for help with veterinary bills and details of lost or found animals will be forwarded to our 24 hour cruelty and advice line on the next working day (Monday to Friday) – if you need an update, please contact them directly on 0300 1234 999.
The Society is focussing its resources on the provision of animal welfare services and the investigation of cruelty. Please review the frequently-asked questions (FAQs) section of the Advice Centre on our website, where you will find answers to all the most common questions asked by members of the public.
When we do respond, you will receive an email which will advise you where to find our reply. Thank you for contacting the RSPCA.
RSPCA Advice Team
Tel: 0300 1234 555
RSPCA HQ operates Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Scanned by Demon MailDefender ”
The RSPCA then responded with:
Thank you for your email dated 11 February 2012.
In response to your enquiry, we can confirm that the RSPCA
is a private prosecutor.
Thank you for contacting us.
RSPCA Advice Team
The SHG tried again:
Can you please also confirm that the RSPCA is not a prosecuting authority?
And received the following response:
Thank you for your further email. We do not actually know what you mean by a prosecuting authority. The RSPCA is a private prosecutor.
RSPCA Advice Team
If anyone has any residual beliefs that the RSPCA have any sort of power or special position, read what the Rt Hon Jim Paice, Minister of State for agriculture and Food has to say:
The RSPCA have no special legal powers above those of any other private citizen or organization – the Act confers no powers on the RSPCA.
[ . . . ]
The 2006 Act is also a ‘common informers act’. It is because anyone can initiate criminal proceedings that the RSPCA successfully prosecutes between 750 and 1,000 people each year who have been found to have caused unnecessary suffering to animals.
The SHG is gathering evidence of any organisation that has treated the RSPCA as if they had statutory powers or were a prosecuting authority.
If you know of any instances where this has happened please do not post details here.
Contact the SHG by e-mail email@example.com or by phone 0844 700 66 90.