These blog items are where individuals/s have asked to develop an action such as a petition by collaborating to achieve a successful action.

Covert camera evidence to be allowed (England and Wales)

This aim of the manifesto scored highly when all aims were assessed. Ministry of Wildlife Crime by Dr Ruth Tingay, page 19 onwards of the extended manifesto and here. Page 25 aim 10 here says:

" 10. We must urgently address and resolve issues concerning inadmissibility of evidence pertaining to the use of covert cameras to monitor wildlife crime committed in remote areas. When wildlife crime is committed in remote landscapes with few witnesses, covertly-filmed video footage may be the only evidence available. The decision to accept covertly-filmed video footage as admissible evidence in prosecution cases is undertaken on a case-by-case basis and with reference to the specific case circumstances. Over the years there have been several successful convictions secured on the basis of covert video evidence,but in recent months a number of prosecutions for seemingly clear-cut raptor persecution crimes have been dismissed because the legislation has been inconsistently applied. Complex legal argument and, in one case, a seemingly underprepared prosecutor, have led to the collapse of some high profile cases, including the shooting of a protected hen harrier at its nest on the Cabrach Estate in Morayshire and the shooting and trapping of a pair of protected breeding peregrines on the Bleasdale Estate in Bowland, Lancashire. Statutory agencies, such as the police, must apply for authority to install covert cameras under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA, and in Scotland, RIPSA) as part of an investigation, but authority will only be given if the activity is considered ‘proportionate’ and when the crime being detected is considered ‘serious’, as determined by the Sentencing Council (i.e. where the penalty would constitute a term of imprisonment for three years or more), so authority will not be granted to detect most wildlife crimes. RIPA was established to protect a potential suspect’s human rights to privacy and was intended to cover activity such as the installation of covert cameras around a suspect’s home. The RSPB, as a charity, is not eligible for RIPA authorisation but has installed covert cameras at the nest sites of specially protected birds of prey, often in remote landscapes and well away from private dwellings, and without seeking landowner permission, to monitor the birds’ breeding attempts, which have subsequently recorded obvious wildlife crime. There needs to be an urgent review of the admissibility of covert video footage in prosecutions and resolutions found as currently the legislation is not fit for purpose in relation to detecting wildlife crime in remote landscapes where the landowner may have a vested interest in the commission of that wildlife crime. "

There is presently an issue with covert camera evidence being used in Scotland. There is, however, a petition, now closed, which is dealing with the matter. Since submitting then petition, I have become more aware of how the situation arose, and the change in Law I am not wishing to propose does not need to mention similar words to "Covert camera" at all.

See for the latest position on progress. The legislation which has been used, wrongly according to the petitioner, to ban video camera evidence in wildlife crime cases, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act has no equivalent in England and Wales.

Video evidence is presently far more likely to be heard in  court in England and Wales. Arguments put to the court which seek to disallow such evidence are less likely to succeed. I ma not aware of the position in Northern Ireland, but as the elected representatives do not seem to agree that they should represent the people in a parliament, there is likely no mechanism to change matters.

Whether covert video evidence is likely to be allowed in court, is based on 3 methods. If the police can obtain authorisation, such authorisation is given in accordance with the law, and the person(s) obtaining the evidence follow the procedures laid down correctly, it will be admitted in court. The second method is where a person, whether they are aware of the event or not, (say by using a dashcam or cyclist helmet cam,) may be recording an unlawful act, then if the recording is made in a public place it should be admissible. It is (perhaps not) a mystery why Scotland does not follow this principle fully, as the description and applicable legislation are the same. 

This the issue is therefore only when such covert recordings are made in a place which is not public, defined as where the  public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise. In Scotland, this is most of the landmass, but in England is more restrictive. In this case the court would be required to 'excuse' the making of the covert recording on the basis that people committing unlawful acts lose some of their rights to privacy and those making the recording are acting 'in the public interest' by doing so. Courts have been lenient to those making recordings on that basis, but not always.

This item scored highly in the assessment of the manifesto aims, so it is pertinent to find a means to legislate to make the task of a court in assessing the rights of the accused versus the public interest an easier decision. 

Legislation change in England and Wales:

I have insufficient knowledge of English law to be able to suggest wording at the moment. If I have some time..... 

But suggestions are very welcome.



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Wednesday, 23 September 2020