The activities of the Panel are principally directed to two things. The first is law reform and the second is strategic litigation.
In the case of law reform, submissions are made for example to parliamentary inquiries, government and in particular Commonwealth parliamentarians. The view is taken that animal welfare should be a Commonwealth responsibility. Certainly, adequate constitutional power exists for the Commonwealth to discharge this role: for example, the corporations power, the trade and commerce power, and the post and telegraph power. There is also of course the possibility of an intergovernmental agreement, as a result of which for example the Commonwealth now plays a primary role in environment protection.
Strategic litigation in round terms is directed to the object of creating court precedents which stand to strengthen the welfare of animals. Where possible, cases in the ordinary course are screened through PILCH to ensure that public interest criteria are satisfied. PILCH then arranges, where appropriate, a law firm to instruct a member of the Panel (nominated by the Panel) as counsel. In addition, the Panel has an adjunct panel of law firms, which includes national first-tier firms to instruct in litigation.
In addition, more recently the Panel has taken steps to heighten its media profile in order to publicise issues of concern and to let it be known that animal welfare is seen as a justice issue by lawyers.
By ‘justice issue’ is meant that Australia’s laws, and in particular its animal protection statutes, provide for the institutionalised suffering of animals, some half a billion a year. This outcome results from the sanction by such statutes of codes of practice, compliance with which creates a defence or exemption to the application of the cruelty provisions of those statutes.
The codes provide for an animal welfare threshold that is much lower than the standards prescribed by the cruelty provisions of the statutes. For example, the Code of Acceptable Farming Practice for the Welfare of Poultry sanctions the confinement of a battery hen to a cage the floor area of which is less than an A4 size sheet of paper.
The Secretariat performs a research and administrative role. Animal welfare is a technical area and much of it is a science. Sound research skills are therefore called upon regularly to be exercised by Secretariat members.
Finally, the Panel intends to hold one to two major seminars a year at which prominent lawyers will speak with a view to disseminating the message that animal welfare is a justice issue, and to instruct interested lawyers and others in matters of current concern.
The Panel arranges for legal advice and representation by its member counsel only. It does not as a body give legal advice or representation; nor does the Secretariat.