As MSPs settle into the new Parliamentary session, many have turned their attention to issues of wildlife and agricultural crime. In the last week we have seen MSPs - most notably, Liam McArthur MSP for the Orkney Islands - submitting written questions to Ministers, seeking to maintain momentum and build on progress made in the last Parliament. Questions included queries around the monitoring of satellite-tagged wild birds and the extension of the powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, together with the following pertinent questions about wildlife crime. Vicarious liability and wildlife crime - is it working? Section 24 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 ("section 24") represented a step change in Scotland's approach to the prosecution of wildlife crime - to the risk and detriment of landowners and managers - with the introduction of vicarious liability for wildlife offences. Individuals commit a criminal offence where they take certain actions with the aim or effect of harming wild birds. Offences include causing death or injury to any wild bird, or interfering with the nests of wild birds. Under section 24, where the individual operates as the employee or agent of a landowner or manager, the latter may also be guilty of a criminal offence. Liability may be avoided where the landowner or manager can demonstrate to the court that:
- They did not know that the offence was being committed; and
- They took all reasonable steps and due diligence to prevent it.
- increasing the maximum penalties available on summary conviction to a £40,000 fine and up to 12 months imprisonment;
- making conviction on indictment more commonly available with a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment;
- using Community Payback Orders to require wildlife crime offenders to attend retraining courses (for example, on empathy); and
- the development of sentencing guidelines for wildlife offences.