Monday, 2 November 2009


A JUDGE has demanded an explanation from animal charity RSPCA after he heard that three dogs that are the subject of an appeal against conviction have been re-homed with new owners.
Judge Keith Cutler has ordered the RSPCA to present a report on what happened to three of seven dogs taken into care after they were confiscated from Kathryn Hamilton Johnson of Poulshot, near Devizes, in December 2003.
Mrs Johnson, 56, was charged with seven counts of causing unnecessary suffering to the six pedigree rough collies and one border collie cross. She sent a message to Kennet Magistrates' Court when the case was due to be heard in October, saying she was unable to attend.
But the bench decided to go ahead with the case in her absence. They found it proved, although no defence case was put. They banned her from keeping animals for ten years and confiscated all seven dogs. She was given a two-year conditional discharge. There was no order made for costs.
Mrs Johnson applied to Salisbury Crown Court to appeal against conviction. She was particularly concerned that the dogs were not disposed of until she was able to put her case to the court.
The appeal was due to be heard on Monday. Judge Cutler said he was concerned to hear that, despite all assurances given to him personally, three of the dogs had been neutered and re-homed. The other four dogs are still in kennels near Ringwood in Hampshire. They have not been neutered.
He said: "I spoke to the RSPCA about this and if they have done something they shouldn't I will be very cross.
"I was assured that everything would be maintained so that, in the event of a successful appeal by Mrs Johnson, the seven dogs could be returned to her. I must find out who is responsible and I want a proper explanation."
He said that a contempt of court action was possible, which could result in a heavy fine or even imprisonment for whoever was responsible.
Mrs Johnson asked that the case be adjourned as her solicitor had withdrawn on Friday, leaving her without legal representation.
Mrs Johnson wishes to call evidence from a second vet who examined her dogs and came to a different conclusion than the RSPCA.
The RSPCA vet said all seven dogs were in greater or lesser stages of emaciation, but Mrs Johnson's vet has reported that only one dog was seriously underweight.
Mrs Johnson said she was already making arrangements to re-home up to five of her dogs when the RSPCA took action to remove them from her one-bedroom home in Poulshot.
Iain O'Donnell, barrister for the RSPCA, said they would prefer that the case went ahead on Monday. He said: "It is a charity and the main concern is about cost. The longer the case goes on, the more it is going to cost."
Judge Cutler said he understood the charity's position, but his duty was to endeavour to dispose of cases justly.
He and two magistrates sitting with him agreed to adjourn the case so that Mrs Johnson could get herself representation. A new date could not be set but the appeal is unlikely to be heard before May. After Monday's hearing the RSPCA agreed to allow Mrs Johnson to visit the four dogs that are being looked after at Ringwood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just to flag up a recent ruling referring to web articles and court cases that you may wish to be aware of.
In light of the case you refer to -the appeal was dropped several years ago and there was no contempt of court action.

A newspaper which continued to publish a defamatory article on its website after its subject was cleared in an investigation lost its right to claim a special journalistic defence against libel, the High Court has said.

Web archives of stories must change to reflect this, the ruling said.

The Times published an article in 2006 which said that a police officer was under investigation for corruption.

An investigation by police found insufficient evidence to proceed with any criminal prosecution or any further internal investigation into him.

But though the High Court has found that the initial investigation was responsible enough to merit a defence against defamation of 'qualified privilege', it said that that could not apply to the online version of the article once The Times was told of the outcome of the investigation.

The article was published in print and online on 2nd June 2006. The Met wrote to The Times on 4 September 2007 with information about the outcome of its investigation.

"The failure to remove the article from the website, or to attach to the articles published on The Times website a suitable qualification, cannot possibly be described as responsible journalism," said Mr Justice Tugendhat in his ruling. "It is not in the public interest that there should continue to be recorded on the internet the questions as to his honesty which were raised in 2006, and it is not fair to him."

The online version of the article carried a warning in red capital letters which read: "Warning this article is subject to legal dispute. It should not be relied on or repeated". The Court said, though, that this did not exonerate it of responsibility for the defamation contained in the piece.

The Times accepted that the article was defamatory but claimed a defence of 'qualified privilege'. This is awarded when an article is on a matter of public interest; the defamatory statement makes a real contribution to the story; and the steps taken to gather the information were responsible and fair, according to a summary in the ruling of a case involving former Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds.

The High Court was satisfied that this was the case in relation to the original article. "There is no indication that the decision to publish the article in the form it was published on 2 June was made in a casual, cavalier, slipshod or careless manner," said the ruling. "The publication on 2 June 2006 was a proportionate interference with the Claimant's right to his reputation, given the legitimate aim in pursuit of which the publication was made."

Mr Justice Tugendhat said that the same was true of the online publication, but only until the newspaper was informed of the outcome of the investigation.

"After September 2007 [The Times] knew that there had been an investigation which had been completed, and the outcome of it. The status of the information had therefore changed for the worse," said the ruling. "[The Times] can no longer state that the website publication includes a fair representation of the Claimant's case (Reynolds Factor 8). His case now includes the favourable outcome to the investigation."