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Cruelty to Animals (ACT)

Written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. She also completed a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the College of Law in Victoria. Fernanda practiced law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practiced in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016. Fernanda has strong interests in Indigenous and refugee law, human rights and law reform.

The ACT’s Animal Welfare Act 1992 creates a number of criminal offences consisting of acts of cruelty to animals. The act applies to all vertebrates and cephalopods as well as to crustaceans intended for human consumption. The Act also regulates the treatment of farm animals and provides for codes of practice to be made to address aspects of farming such as the transport and slaughter of animals. It seeks to promote the welfare, safety and health of animals and to ensure animals are properly cared for and managed.

What is cruelty to animals?

The act defines cruelty to animals as including:

  • Causing pain that is unjustifiable, unnecessary, or unreasonable in the circumstances;
  • Beating that causes pain;
  • Abusing, terrifying or tormenting;
  • Injuring or wounding that is unjustifiable, unnecessary or unreasonable in the circumstances.

A person commits an offence if they commit an act of cruelty on an animal. This offence attracts a maximum penalty of imprisonment for one year or a fine of 100 penalty units, or both.

Aggravated cruelty

A person commits aggravated cruelty to animals  if they commit an act of cruelty on an animal that results in the animal dying or suffering serious injury and the person intended or was reckless as to causing the death of or serious injury to the animal. This offence attracts a maximum penalty of imprisonment for two years, a fine of 200 penalty units, or both.

Duty of care

The act establishes that people who are in charge of animals have a duty of care to the animals. A person commits an offence if they are in charge of an animal and fail to take reasonable steps to provide it with food and water, treatment for illness or injury, shelter or the opportunity to behave in a way that is normal for the animal. A person also commits an offence if they abandon an animal.

These offences carry a maximum penalty of imprisonment for one year or a fine of 100 penalty units, or both.

Other offences

The act also establishes a number of other offences relating to the mistreatment of animals. These are listed in the below table, together with the section of the act that governs them and the maximum penalty that applies.

OffenceSectionMaximum penalty
Failing to give confined animal adequate exercise Section 9 100 penalty units or imprisonment for on year
Keeping laying fowl in inappropriate conditions Section 9A 50 penalty units
Keeping pigs in inappropriate accommodation Section 9B50 penalty units
Removing beak of a fowl Section 9C50 penalty units
Failing to alleviate pain of animal after injuring the animalSection 1010 penalty units
Releasing animal from custody or control without reasonable excuse Section 11Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Administering poison to an animal Section 12Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Laying poison to kill or injure animal Section 12Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Give electric shock to an animal (using device not prescribed for that use) Section 13Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Using a prohibited itemSection 14Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Transporting or containing an animal in a way that causes pain or sufferingSection 15Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Breeding a cat or dog in contravention of breeding standardsSection 15B50 penalty units
Using an animal that is unfit for useSection 16Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Taking part in an activity where an animal is released to be hunted by a human or another animalSection 17Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Taking part in or promoting a rodeoSection 18Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Conducting or facilitating a greyhound raceSection 18AImprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Conducting a medical procedure on an animal (person not a vet)Section 19Imprisonment for one year or 100 penalty units, or both
Perform certain procedures other than for therapeutic purpose (person a vet)Section 19A50 penalty units

Exception – codes of practice

A broad exception to the above offences applies where the conduct in question was done in accordance with an approved code of practice or mandatory code of practice. Under the act, codes of practice may be approved by the Minister. Failure to comply with a mandatory code of practice is an offence, punishable by a maximum fine of 100 penalty units.

Research, teaching or breeding

The act also makes it an offence to use or breed animals for research or teaching without a licence to do so. Licence holders are required to  comply with conditions designed to minimise cruelty to animals.

Circuses and travelling zoos

The act makes it an offence to conduct a circus with performing animals or a travelling zoo without a permit.

Enforcement

The act provides for the appointment of inspectors and authorised officers. Inspectors may enter premises for the purpose of administering the act and if they believe it necessary on reasonable grounds, may:

  • Examine animals;
  • Give assistance to animals;
  • Inspect the premises;
  • Take copies of documents;
  • Take photos or make films;
  • Seize animals or things connected with an offence such as cruelty to animals;
  • Question persons and require them to give assistance.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

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