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Animal Cruelty Offences (NT)

Northern Territory laws regulating the treatment of animals were tightened in 2018 with the passage of the Animal Protection Act. The Act replaces the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and imposes harsher penalties for animal cruelty.

The Act has been welcomed by the animal welfare sector as strengthening laws against animal cruelty but it has also criticised for not going far enough and for duplicating provisions in other legislation. The act will not take effect until sometime in 2019 when Animal Protection Regulations have been drafted.

What is an animal?

Under the new legislation, an animal is defined as encompassing all vertebrates except humans, including amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles, bony and cartilaginous fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods (squids and octopuses), whether the animal is in captivity or not.

Minimum level of care

Section 6 of the act provides that a person having care of an animal must ensure that the animal:

  • Has appropriate food and water;
  • Has appropriate accommodation;
  • Is appropriately treated for disease or injury;
  • Is allowed appropriate exercise;
  • Is handled appropriately;
  • Is confined or restrained only in ways that are appropriate;
  • Is worked, ridden or used only in ways that are appropriate;
  • Is not abandoned;
  • Is not used in an organised animal fight.

The act specifies that something is not appropriate if it is likely to cause an animal suffering that is unjustifiable, unnecessary or unreasonable in the circumstances.


The Animal Protection Act establishes several offences relating to animal cruelty.

Failing to provide minimum level of care

A person commits an offence punishable by a fine of 100 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months if he or she is in control of an animal and intentionally or recklessly fails to provide the minimum level of care to the animal (Section 23).

Cruelty to animals

A person commits an offence punishable by a fine of 200 penalty units or imprisonment for two years if he or she is intentionally or recklessly cruel to an animal (Section 24).

Animal cruelty includes beating, abusing, torturing, injuring or wounding an animal. It also includes tail docking, ear cropping, claw removal and debarking of an animal by a person who is not a veterinarian who reasonably believes the procedure is necessary.

Aggravated animal cruelty

A person commits an aggravated offence publishable by 500 penalty units or imprisonment for five years if the act of animal cruelty results in the animal’s death or in serious harm to the animal.

Serious harm means danger to the animal’s life or such a  serious injury or disease that it would be cruel not to destroy the animal, or serious and protracted impairment of a physical or mental function of the animal (Section 25).

Notification of injury

A person who injures a domestic animal must inform a person in control of the animal of the injury or inform an authorised person about the injury. Failure to do so is an offence punishable by a fine of 20 penalty units (Section 26).

Administering poison

A person commits an offence punishable by 100 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months if he or she intentionally administers a poisonous substance to an animal. However, this provision does not apply to veterinarians (Section 27).

Laying poison, setting traps, using electrical devices and using spurs

The act also creates offences relating to laying poisonous substances that may kill or cause suffering to animals (Section 28), setting metal-jawed traps or prohibited traps to trap an animal (Section 29)  using electrical devices on an animal (Section 30) and using spurs on an animal (Section 31).

Codes of practice

When the Animal Protection Regulations come into effect, Codes of Practice will also come into effect. Section 20 of the act provides that a code of practice can be made about:

  • The production, processing, keeping, display, treatment, handling, husbandry, management or care of animals;
  • The transportation, sale, killing, hunting, shooting, catching, trapping, netting, marking, control or protection of animals
  • The use of animals.

When a person does an act in compliance with a Code of Practice that would otherwise be an offence under the Animal Protection Act, a defence will be available to them under Section 21(2) of the act.

Use of animals for scientific purposes

The act provides that animals may be used for scientific purposes only by registered persons and sets out the process for applications for registration. It also makes it an offence, punishable by 100 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months, to use animals for scientific purposes otherwise than in compliance with the registration scheme.

Aboriginal laws and customs

The Animal Protection Act reiterates the right of Aboriginal communities to practice traditional hunting and fishing activities and cultural practices in accordance with traditional laws and customs. This right is also protected under the Native Title Act 1993.

It is a defence to a charge of cruelty to animals or aggravated cruelty to animals, if the person charged is Aboriginal and the conduct complied with Aboriginal traditional law or custom.

Power to enter land and premises

Under the act, an authorised officer may enter premises on reasonable grounds to determine whether an animal is suffering or whether the premises are being used in relation to any animal cruelty offences. However, the authorised officer must give the occupier a minimum of 48 hours’ notice of their intention to enter the premises to conduct a search unless they are acting under a search warrant or the occupier consents to a shorter notice period.

Until the Animal Protection Act 2018 comes into force, the Animal Welfare Act 1999 remains in force.

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


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.

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