With the increase in sentencing for some wildlife crimes that has recently come into effect in England & Wales the laws relating to penalties for wildlife crimes have been changed for all of the UK mainland.
It is now possible for a custodial sentence of up to 5 years to be given for some wildlife crime offences. As the number of prosecutions compared to complaints is extremely low, and conviction rates being even lower and as custodial sentences are even rarer, some may view this change as pointless.
Whilst we may never see anyone actually receive a 5 year sentence the change does have one significant effect. The laws of evidence in the various jurisdictions of the UK mean that evidence obtained by covert filming is difficult or impossible to present in court. For covert filming to be used a 'threshold' for the 'seriousness' of the crime must be reached and that 'threshold' is measured by the maximum custodial sentence that can be given to an adult who commits the offence. Now that some wildlife offences have reached the 'threshold' it is possible for the police to use covert cameras to obtain evidence in certain cases. Given that the National Wildlife Crime Unit gathers intelligence on offences such as badger baiting and raptor crime, given that these are national priorities, and given that the police acknowledge that these offences are often 'organised' can we look forward to the deluge of cases that can now be brought.
The use of camera evidence should also be welcomed by the various shooting and gamekeeping organisations. They have always committed to ridding the countryside of the scourge of wildlife crime however sometimes they have suggested that evidence has been 'planted' to damage the reputation of shooting and gamekeeping. With the targeted deployment of covert cameras it will finally be possible to establish who is really responsible for the appalling catalogue of wildlife crimes that blight our countryside and impact our natural heritage.
Image credit: Sunguk Kim
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