Animal Protection Services: Improper Prosecution?

Animal Protection Services (APS) is a registered charity claiming to work against animal cruelty. Recently, they had begun to act as private prosecutors taking people to court for offences involving the sale of animals as pets.

However, the charity has been strongly criticised by the Honorary Recorder of Manchester, HHJ Dean QC, for acting in a way that was “an affront to the conscience of the criminal justice system.” The Recorder’s comments were utterly scathing, as he ruled on two specific cases at Manchester Crown Court. He also referred to the judgment of HHJ Lloyd, who heard another case brought by Animal Protection Services at Preston Crown Court

Motivations for Bringing Private Prosecutions

APS had instructed Parry and Welch Solicitors (PAWS), a firm of solicitors with a history of specialising in dangerous dogs litigation, to prosecute dozens of people for selling pets without a licence and for breaching consumer protection legislation. For every case they brought, Animal Protection Services and PAWS would claim over £5,000 of taxpayer’s money.

Given that most of Animal Protection Service’s prosecutions were heard in the Magistrates’ Court, with as many as 15-20 cases in a day, there were questions about what the real motivations were for bringing these cases.

Deeply Flawed Investigations

In the overwhelming majority of these cases, APS had “investigated” people who had posted advertisements on the Pets4Homes website. The extent of these investigations went no further than to obtain details of the user accounts, and to issue a summons: no interview under caution, no enquiry to find out any of the details of the advertised sales… just straight to court.

The biggest problem is that when these cases came before the Magistrates’ Court, most defendants were unrepresented and expected to understand relatively obscure legislation and regulations. Anecdotal evidence referred to in the Manchester Crown Court case suggests that defendants pled guilty because of what they were told by the prosecutor.

However, a few people elected to have their case heard in the Crown Court… and in every case that was sent to the Crown Court for trial, Animal Protection Services and PAWS decided not to pursue the case. The obvious inference is that the cases were flawed, and would come under much greater scrutiny by the solicitors or barristers acting for the defence: APS wanted to avoid that attention.

This is precisely what happened in the Manchester Crown Court case, leading to the Recorder taking the unusual step of halting the cases as an abuse of process, as well as finding that there was insufficient evidence to establish either charge against the defendants

For more information about the decision to halt Animal Protection Services’ cases, click on the these links:

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