Dr Barry Peachey LLM, LLB(Hons), Ph.D., FCollP, ACIArb, MBAE, FETC Dr Barry Peachey LLM, LLB(Hons), Ph.D., FCollP, ACIArb, MBAE, FETC clears up widely held misconceptions concerning the RSPCA and the law – misconceptions that are indeed actively and publicly fostered by the RSPCA itself. Please note that this article and statements made therein by varying individuals have been paraphrased to prevent copyright infringement.

The RSPCA and the Law

The facts:

  • The RSPCA is NOT a government body. It is a charity.
  • The inspectorate of the RSPCA does NOT represent a body of public law enforcement.
  • The society’s inspectors do NOT have:

Special legal powers of any kind.

Special powers allowing them to arrest offenders.

The right to enter people’s homes to inspect their animals or demand answers to their questions.

Rights of access to fairs, markets and shows exceeding those of other members of the general public and can carry out law enforcement functions of any kind only in assistance of police officers upon such officers’ request.

Power to obstruct, stop or otherwise seize and detain vehicles carrying animals.

  • While RSPCA staff may initiate criminal proceedings against an offender, they invariably do so via private prosecution.
  • RSPCA Inspectorate members wear uniforms. This makes them look as close to police officers as is permissible by the law. They are, however, NOT police officers. The Inspectorate’s LOWEST “rank” is “Inspector” (apart, of course, from trainee inspectors). Ranks above this include “Chief Inspector”, “Superintendent” and – what else – “Chief Superintendent”. These ranks are neither “Officers of the Crown” nor do they have any kind of legal significance. They are designed purely to impress members of the public.

The RSPCA and its Disregard for the Law

Senior members of the RSPCA’s Inspectorate have stated publicly on various occasions that they have what can only be described as a cavalier disregard not only for the law, but also the protection it affords to suspected offenders.

Giving evidence in the David MacKay case at the Magistrates’ Court of Richmond-on-Thames on the 3rd of September 1992, Chief Inspector J. Paul was asked during cross-examination by defence barrister Thomas Derbyshire whether he was “telling the court that he encourages his staff to blatantly disregard legal and civil rights in pursuit of the RSPCA’s ends”. He replied by stating: “It is my duty to look after animals and if this involves infringing the legal and civil rights of people, so be it. Animal have no means of defending themselves, so we must do that for them.” The fact that RSPCA staff had both illegally entered the property and seize animals illegally in this case is a matter of public record.

Featuring in Channel 4’s recent RSPCA TV series, “Animal Squad – Undercover”, Chief Superintendent and head of RSPCA Special Operations Donald Balfour was asked by a police officer (on camera) whether he had the legal powers to proceed with his proposed actions. He replied: “Not officially, but we do this all the time.”

The society later announced in a press release that their staff would be withdrawn from prosecutions under the 1991 S1 Dangerous Dogs Act. In this release, the five men in question were described as “qualified expert witnesses”.

This, too, is a wilful misrepresentation of the RSPCA’s legal position. For expert witnesses, the qualifying body in the UK is the BAE (British Academy of Experts). Only individuals holding full professional membership or a fellowship within the practising membership category are “qualified” expert witnesses.

According to the law, any expert may provide expert evidence if this expert can satisfy the relevant court with regards to their expertise. There is, however, an immense difference between this and BAE membership. Out of all the Inspectors authorised by the RSPCA, none are Members or Fellows of the BAE. This is partly due to the Academy requiring candidates to have:

  • At least been educated to First Degree level
  • The ability to pass a demanding, extensive vetting procedure covering professional competence and conduct
  • Chartered status (or an equivalent) within their primary profession

At the moment, out of the experts who made regular appearances in cases under the Dangerous Dogs Act, only three are on the Academy’s professional register. All three are panel members of litigation consultancy practice A.G. Fox.

The RSPCA sought to present its withdrawal of staff from cases like this as a concerted effort to afford protection to innocent dogs. This is hypocrisy at the highest level. The sad truth is that the society was driven out of play by a series of crushing court defeats that made their staff look like amateurs when confronted with real experts – in a misguided exercise that, as far as I am concerned, has done nothing but bring the RSPCA into gross disrepute.

First printed on the 21st of May 1993 in the ‘Our Dogs’ magazine, this article still holds true to this day. It has been reproduced here by kind permission of the SHG (Self Help Group) for animal owners who are under investigation and/or threatened by the RSPCA.