Clarity needed on enforcement measures to make ‘livestock worrying law’ effective, says Holyrood Committee

14.12.2020

New legislation which would increase the penalties for dog-owners whose pets chase, attack or kill farmed animals will require significant amendment and clear guidance as to how it will work in practice if it is to meet its aim of reducing incidents of so-called “livestock worrying”, according to MSPs.

Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee said it supports the general principles of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, but expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the enforcement and prosecution provisions in the Bill and the lack of clarity around the practical application of the legislation.

The Member’s Bill introduced by Emma Harper MSP would provide additional powers for the investigation and enforcement of the offence and increase the maximum penalty to six months’ imprisonment, a fine of £5,000, or both.

In its stage 1 report published today (Monday) the Committee said that while higher penalties may be justified, it was unconvinced that increased sentencing powers alone would act as a deterrent, and questioned whether the measures relating to compensation for livestock owners were necessary given existing remedies available to the courts.

The Bill, which extends the definition of “livestock” to include additional types of farmed animal such as llamas, deer, and buffalo, would also allow a court to make an order disqualifying convicted persons from owning or keeping a dog, or preventing them for taking dogs onto agricultural land where livestock is present.
However, the Committee noted evidence that the proposed disqualification orders may be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and called for clarification as to how these orders would be applied, enforced and monitored.

The Bill provides police and inspectors with new powers to seize a dog for the purpose of identifying its owner or gathering evidence, but the report calls for the removal of provisions to allow the creation of new inspection bodies, as it considers that responsibility for dealing with such criminal offences should lie only with the police.

The Committee further considered that proposals to grant the police the power of entry, search and seizure without a warrant when cases of livestock worrying are being investigated should be removed, after expressing very real concerns about the necessity and legality of such a power.

Committee Convener, Edward Mountain MSP, said:

“In principle the Committee is supportive of new legislation which would introduce tougher enforcement powers and increase penalties for livestock worrying, as dog attacks can cause suffering to farm animals and significant financial cost to farmers. However, the evidence from stakeholders has highlighted a number of areas in the Bill on which the Committee considers more clarity and/or amendment is needed to assist in achieving its objectives and making it as effective as possible. 

“In particular, our report raises concerns about the lack of clarity around the intent, appropriateness and practical application of several of the enforcement and prosecution provisions in the Bill. We have also called for the specific proposals to create new inspection bodies and those to grant the police the power of entry, search and seizure without a warrant in cases of livestock worrying to be removed from the Bill.

“We have asked the Member in charge to work with Scottish Government to address these issues in order to ensure that this legislation can complete its passage before the end of the current parliamentary session.”

The Committee’s stage 1 report is available here.

Background

The Member’s Bill was introduced by Emma Harper MSP on 14 May 2020. It updates the existing law on “livestock worrying”, in the main, by amending the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

The Bill:

• increases the maximum penalty to a fine of £5,000 or imprisonment for six months
• allows the courts to ban a convicted person from owning a dog or allowing their dog to go on agricultural land
• gives the police greater powers to investigate and enforce livestock worrying offence, including going onto land to identify a dog, seize it and collect evidence from it
• allows other organisations to be given similar powers
• extends the “livestock worrying” offence to cover additional types of farmed animal
• renames the offence as that of “attacking or worrying livestock”, with the intention of emphasising how serious it can be.

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