Using the law to help animals

There are any number of interesting legal challenges now posed by the animal cause. And, to the credit of the profession, lawyers are coming increasingly to the fore in waging the battle for reform. Certainly, law reform is at the heart of the animal welfare battle. But increasingly an agenda exists to impart the message about treatment of animals through, first, public interest cases affecting animals and, second, prosecutions in key areas, such as intensive livestock production and live animal exports.


Historically, there has been little prosecution in these two areas, although they comprise the “main game” in Australian animal welfare. However, this looks set to change. In Victoria and Western Australia private prosecutions are not permissible. In New South Wales, by reason of a recent amendment to the local animal protection statute, permission to bring a private prosecution is first required to be obtained from the Minister for Primary Industries or the department’s Director General.  By reason of the sanction by state animal protection statutes of producer friendly ‘codes of practice’ their protective reach is denied to the overwhelming mass of animals, some 500 million annually. For example, the code of practice for domestic poultry permits the confinement of a battery hen to a floor area less than an A4 sheet of paper. Such enduring close confinement would ordinarily give rise to a cruelty offence under a statute. As such confinement complies with the relevant code of practice however, the act does not apply.


With welfare threshholds so low for intensively produced animals in particular, prosecution is difficult. Accordingly, the lawyer is compelled to turn to other and more creative legal strategies. For example, section 52, Trade Practices Act 1974 prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct by a corporation in trade or commerce. Hypothetically speaking, major players in an industry may market their animal products on the basis that the animals were raised in ideal or enriched conditions, when in fact they were not.


For more information, please see Strategic Litigation and Law Reform, a speech presented by Graeme McEwen at the  national conference of the Australian Law Students Association, in Adelaide on Friday 16 July 2010.

One thought on “Using the law to help animals

  1. Action needs to be taken to put controls on the RSPCA. Two of their officers came to our place and took our beloved pet sheep Cara because someone complained about him and us saying he was in pain and we were mistreating him – absolute lies. Anyone who knows us and our animals will tell you that we love our animals and would never mistreat them, eg our neighbours and regular visitors to our place.
    Cara was no ordinary sheep, he could be cosidered a special needs sheep. He had hypothermia when he was day old because his mother left him out in the rain and cold. When we found him in the morning we rang our vet and told them and they came to pick him up. They didn’t think he would survive but a few days later he made fools of them when he recovered. However, the hypothermia resulted in him having a knock-kneed back leg which meant he walked funny and had to be helped up when he was lying down. The vet thought he would grow out of it but he didn’t. Last year a farmer who saw him and had a lamb with a similar problemtold us our vet should have put his leg in plaster when he was a young lamb and it would have straightened his leg. He was fully grown by then though and it is too late then. Shows that vets do not necessarily know everything, or maybe the difference between a city vet and a country vet.
    When the RSPCA officers came they said they were taking him but they did not have a court order to take him. They were extremely cruel to him. He always has a siesta in the middle of the day which is when the RSPCA came. As he wouldn’t get up for them they started kicking him and then when my brother helped him stand they took his harness off, which we had bought to walk him with and control him with when he went to follow people. They tied a rope around his neck and because he wouldn’t walk on command started to drag him, choking him.Sheep don’t walk on command, no aimal does unless it has been trained. When Cara dug his hooves in one of them picked him up and threw him in the back of their van. He wasn’t in pain before they came but most likely was after their cruelty. Our poor Cara was terrified.
    My brother asked them if they knew anything about sheep, they admitted they did not. He asked them if they knew how to tell if an animal was in pain, they admitted they did not. We on the other hand do as we were told by our vet how to tell when an animal is in pain when our horse first got colic soon after we got her. Cruel people who know nothing about animals, such as these two RSPCA officers, should not be employed by an organisation such as the RSPCA, but then the RSPCA as an organisation is extremely cruel, killing thousands of animals, principally cats and dogs, each year because they do not meet their ridiculous adoption standards. If an abused or stray animal is brought to them, at least in WA where we live, they give them a few weeks to get quiet and friendly, but it can take month of showing such an animal care and affection before they learn to trust humans again. The RSPCA does not understand animals, nor do they really care about them.
    They have been lying about us and won’t tell us what they have done with Cara. We want to take action against the RSPCA and get our Cara back, if they haven’t killed him. Can you help us with the name of a suitable lawyer and can you try and get regulations put in place to control what the RSPCA does and how, and limit what sort of people they can employ. I don’t know what the RSPCA in other states is like but in WA they are disgusting and a lot of people do not like them or trust them.
    I have written to you hera because I could not find any other way to contact you. All you have for a contact is these comment forms.

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