Written by John Sutton
May 27, 2016
Canberrans face prosecution if they fail to look after their pets in a revamp of the law to start from July 1.The new legislation makes it an offence to breach a duty of care to one's pet, where previously cruelty had to be proved.
In March 2016, Minister for Transport and Municipal Services, Meegan Fitzharris, introduced the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2016 (‘the bill’) to the ACT Legislative Assembly. When introducing the bill, Minister Fitzharris stated changes to the Animal Welfare Act 1992 (‘the Act’) have been created “in order to achieve better animal welfare outcomes and greater consistency with equivalent national legislation”. Minister Fitzharris stated the bill was in response to an increase in animal welfare cases in the ACT in 2015 and the new amendments have been developed in conjunction with ACT RSPCA, Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, and the Veterinary Surgeons Board.
The bill will come into effect on 1 July this year, and will introduce a provision to create a duty of care for anyone who is in charge of an animal in the ACT. Being in charge of an animal includes having control over and responsibility for an animal. This duty may be breached if the person fails to provide the animal with food, water, shelter, treatment, the opportunity to display normal behavior, or abandons the animal.
Currently, to be found guilty of an act of cruelty on an animal the prosecution has to prove physical harm or injury to the animal, that is, the animal must have suffered physical pain. The current Act omits other forms of non-physical neglect or injury. Currently the test of cruelty is a very high threshold and it is often difficult to prove physical pain to an animal that is unable to communicate. Unless the owner intentionally or recklessly caused the injury, it is unlikely they would be found guilty of animal cruelty. Under the amended Act, a person who fails to take reasonable steps to provide, for example, adequate medical treatment for an animal may be guilty of breaching their duty of care. If a person is found guilty of breaching their duty of care, the maximum penalty is 100 penalty units (currently $15,000), imprisonment for one year, or both.
The introduction of a duty of care will broaden the definition of cruelty and, as stated by Minister Fitzharris, “will make animal cruelty cases easier to prosecute in the ACT”.
The bill will also introduce a requirement that the owner of an animal is to provide care information to the new owner at the point of sale. The idea of this provision is to increase community awareness and education.
If you have been charged with an animal cruelty offence you should get legal advice. The criminal law team at Armstrong Legal can assist you.