Operators who adopt a cavalier approach towards the welfare of animals in their charge face the wrath of the courts

Posted on Jul 3, 2014   |   Categories: Animal Law, Criminal & Traffic Law

A recent South Australian Case is a reminder that if you are charged with the responsibility of caring for livestock, it is important that you have a full understanding of your responsibilities concerning the welfare of the animals in your charge. A failure to do so could result in a criminal conviction and significant monetary fines.

Reported at the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel is a South Australian Case brought by the RSPCA against a sheep farmer for ill treatment of animals. He recklessly caused unnecessary harm to the sentient animals, being 250 sheep, by transporting them in stock crates in which the sheep were confined for approximately 8 hours without access to food or water.

Evidence produced revealed that prior to being loaded, the sheep had been denied water for a period of between 24 to 36 hours. As a result, over 40 sheep were found dead in the yards; six were in such poor condition they had to be destroyed, with the remainder of the animals found suffering and in extremely poor condition.

It is an unfortunate “industry practice” not to allow sheep or other livestock access to water for 24 hours (in some cases even longer) before they are transported, in order to reduce the amount of effluent passed by the animals during transportation on public roads. In this particular matter, the consultant veterinarian to the RSPCA noted that this industry practice was not necessarily humane or even “necessary practice”.

The prosecution in this matter noted that the defendant showed a “lack of judgment for a man with 22 years’ experience in the livestock industry and was influenced by commercial interest. It was suggested to me that offences of this kind are difficult to detect as they often occur in remote locations”. The prosecution went on to submit that deterrent was an important factor in sentencing and that the conviction should be appropriate given the gravity of the offence and the intention of the Parliament.

The defendant accepted that he did not pay attention to the needs of the sheep and that the 250 sheep should not have been transported.

The defendant was ordered to pay the sum of $7,000 towards the legal fees of the prosecution and a further $5,000 fine, together with a recorded conviction to “express community disapproval of the defendant’s actions”.

In providing his reasoning for sentencing, the Judge stated: “The preferences of the transport industry cannot and must not be seen as an excuse to avoid the responsibilities arising from the terms of the Animal Welfare Act”.

The Judge went on to say that the responsibility rests with the consigner to ensure that animals which are transported by road, are in a fit condition to travel. The consignor must postpone the transport if it appears that the condition of the animals concerned is such that they are not fit to travel. The judge noted, “to continue in spite of that assessment is a clear breach of the Act. In this case, the defendant’s reckless disregard for his responsibilities resulted in the death of some 46 sheep and a period of suffering for many others”.

Further, the Judge said: It is inconceivable that anyone who has, as a principal source of income, the care and control of large flocks of sheep should not be fully aware of the responsibilities that the Act and the applicable code, created for the proper management of those animals”.

The Animal Welfare Act (and similar Acts applicable in New South Wales) provide for a maximum penalty for a breach of $20,000 or imprisonment for up to two years. In sentencing the Judge said: “I reject the suggestion that there were limited options available in this matter. It is important that both the defendant and others who have control of large flocks of sheep are deterred from adopting a cavalier attitude to the welfare of those animals”.

Please contact us should you wish to discuss your obligations and for a thorough check of your practices as to whether they comply with the applicable Animal Welfare Act and the Code.