Animal Cruelty

There has been frequent media attention on illegal puppy farms and the mistreatment of animals, leading to criminal charges. The charge of ‘Animal Cruelty’ has a broad scope and is highly dependent on the circumstances of the case as to whether criminal charges are laid. The offence covers situations where animals are treated ‘cruelly’.[1] This can include mistreatment and neglect (e.g. a failure to provide adequate food, water and medical care), the sale of animals deemed to be unfit and physical abuse. In this article, we will examine the definition of ‘Animal Cruelty’, the elements of the charge, possible penalties and defences available to an Animal Cruelty charge.

Elements of an Animal Cruelty Charge

The Police are required to establish each of the following elements beyond reasonable doubt in order to successfully prove an Animal Cruelty case:

  1. That you engaged in behaviour towards an animal;
  2. That behaviour is considered to be ‘cruel’.

‘Animal’ is defined by the law as any living species including fish, mammals, reptile or bird, other than a human being.[2] ‘Cruelty’ has a significant list of actions considered to meet the definition of ‘cruel’ under the law, which includes wounding, overworking, abusing, causing pain and suffering, abandoning, selling an unfit animal, baiting, using Spurs or carrying out a prohibited procedure.[3]

Importantly, there is no need to consider intention as an element is proving an Animal Cruelty charge as it is a strict liability charge.

Further, if any of the alleged behaviours towards the animal cause serious disablement or death, you could also be charged with the more serious offence of aggravated Animal Cruelty.[4]

Possible Penalties

Penalties for an Animal Cruelty charge that is successfully established will depend on whether the offender is considered to be an organisation or an individual. Penalties for an organisation include a maximum fine of up to $97,000. For an individual, the maximum penalty is $40,500 and / or a term of imprisonment for up to 1 year.

For aggravated Animal Cruelty, the maximum penalty for an organisational they are found guilty of the offence is a fine of up to $187,000. For an individual, the maximum penalty is $77,000 and / or 2 years imprisonment.

Defences

If you have been charged with Animal Cruelty, you do have defences available, but they are highly dependent on the circumstances of the alleged offence. First, you can argue a defence if there are issues in identifying the offender. For example, if it cannot be established exactly who undertook the actions, behaviour or conduct towards the animal considered to be ‘cruel’.

Secondly, you will have a defence to an Animal Cruelty charge if you held an honest and reasonable belief that the behaviour towards the animal was not cruel. If you have been charged with an aggravated offence, you can also argue that your actions did not lead to the death or serious disablement of the animal.

You may also have a defence of reasonable mistake or a factual dispute relating to the charge.

If you have been charged with Animal Cruelty or aggravated Animal Cruelty, it is important to contact a legal practitioner as soon as practicable to ensure the best defence is identified for your case.

[1] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Vic) s 9.
[2] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Vic) s 3(3).
[3] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Vic) s 9(1).
[4] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Vic) s 10(1).

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