Animal Cruelty and Neglect Laws

Instances of animal cruelty and neglect are sadly common across wildlife, domestic and livestock animals. Animal cruelty and neglect can take place in various forms ranging to physical abuse and mistreatment of an animal to failing to provide an animal with appropriate food, shelter or care. Animal cruelty and neglect laws in NSW provide significant penalties for instances of animal cruelty and neglect in NSW and courts place significant emphasis on general and specific deterrence when sentencing offenders for offences involving animal cruelty and neglect.

What is the offence of animal cruelty in NSW?

Section 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) states that a person shall not commit or authorise the commission of an act of cruelty upon an animal. Moreover, section 5 states that a person shall not fail, at any time to:

  1. Exercise reasonable care, control or supervision of an animal to prevent the commission of an act of cruelty upon the animal;
  2. Where pain is being inflicted upon the animal, to take such reasonable steps as are necessary to alleviate the pain;
  3. Where it is necessary for the animal to be provided with veterinary treatment, whether or not over a period of time, to provide the animal with that treatment.

The maximum penalty for an offence under this provision is a fine of up to $44,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 1 year. For a corporation, a maximum fine of up to $220,000 applies to this offence.

What is the offence of aggravated animal cruelty in NSW?

Section 6 of the Act stipulates stricter penalties for offenders charged with acts of aggravated cruelty upon an animal.  An act of aggravated cruelty is committed where the cruelty to the animal results in the death, deformity or serious disablement of the animal or the animal is so seriously injured, diseased or in such a physical condition that it is cruel to keep it alive. The maximum penalty for an offence of aggravated animal cruelty is a fine of up to $110,000 and/or 2 years imprisonment for individuals and fines of up to $550,000 for corporations.

What is the offence of serious animal cruelty?

An offence of ‘Serious Animal Cruelty’ is contained under section 530 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). Section 530(1) states that a person who a) tortures, beats or commits and other serious of act of cruelty on an animal and b) kills or seriously injures or causes prolonged suffering to the animal is guilty of an offence. This offence attracts a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.

Section 530(1A) states that a person who is reckless as to whether severe pain is inflicted a) tortures, beats or commits and other serious of act of cruelty on an animal and b) kills or seriously injures or causes prolonged suffering to the animal is guilty of an offence. This offence attracts a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment.

What are some other examples of animal cruelty offences in NSW?

Other examples of offences involving acts of cruelty on an animal include:

  1. Docking the tail of a horse, bull, ox, bullock, steer, cow, heifer, calf of dog,
  2. Cropping the ears of a dog,
  • Operate upon a dog for the purpose of preventing the dog from being able to bark,
  1. Removing one or more claws of a cat,
  2. Grinding, trimming or clipping one or more teeth of a sheep,
  3. Perform a clitoridectomy on a greyhound,
  • Fire or hot iron brand the face of an animal.

Pursuant to section 12 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW), offences involving such procedures are punishable by a maximum penalty of $5,500 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment for an individual or fines of up to $27,500 for a corporation.

Under section 18 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW), it is illegal to use, manage or control any place which is used to conduct a bull fight, bait an animal or causing an animal to fight. Moreover, it is also illegal to cause, procure, permit or encourage a fight in which one or more animals are pitted against one another or to advertise, promote, organise or attend such a fight. Maximum penalties of a $5,500 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment for an individual or fines of up to $27,500 for a corporation exist for offences against this section.

What are animal cruelty offences involving animal neglect in NSW?

Some examples of offences involving animal neglect include:

  1. Failing to provide an animal with proper and sufficient food, drink or shelter; section 8 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW). Maximum penalties include a fine of up to $16,500 and/or 6 months imprisonment for individuals and fines of up to $82,500 for corporations.
  2. Failing to provide veterinary treatment; section 5(3)(c) Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW). The maximum penalty for an offence under this provision is a fine of up to $44,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 1 year. For a corporation, a maximum fine of up to $220,000 applies to this offence.
    • If the failure to provide veterinary treatment to the animal results in the death, deformity or serious disablement of the animal or the animal is so seriously injured, diseased or in such a physical condition that it is cruel to keep it alive, the aggravated offence under section 6 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) could be charged. The maximum penalty for an offence of aggravated animal cruelty is a fine of up to $110,000 and/or 2 years imprisonment for individuals and fines of up to $550,000 for corporations.
  3. Failing to provide adequate exercise to an animal; section 9 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW). The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of up to $5,500 and/or 6 months imprisonment for an individual and a fine of up to $27,500 for a corporation.
  4. Tethering an animal for an unreasonable length of time or by means of an unreasonably heavy, or unreasonably short tether; section 10 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW). The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of up to $5,500 and/or 6 months imprisonment for an individual and a fine of up to $27,500 for a corporation.
  5. Abandoning an animal; section 11 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW). The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of up to $5,500 and/or 6 months imprisonment for an individual and a fine of up to $27,500 for a corporation.

What are the available defences to a charge of animal cruelty?

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) provides defences to certain offences. Situations where a defence may or may not be available can be complex and need to be carefully examined by an experienced criminal defence lawyer. The question as to whether an accused is criminally liable for an offence is also important to carefully examine as the law broadly defines who is deemed to be a person in charge of an animal in respect of an animal cruelty or neglect offence.

Practical considerations

There is widespread recognition that animals are almost inevitably defenceless against acts of cruelty and neglect. As a result, there are significant penalties, including prison sentences which apply to offences of animal cruelty and neglect and courts routinely incorporate principles of general and specific deterrence in sentencing offenders charged with animal cruelty and neglect offences.

The majority of animal cruelty and neglect cases are prosecuted by animal welfare organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Such organisations often engage legal representatives to appear on their behalf in court to prosecute such proceedings and seek orders for their legal costs against offenders who plead guilty or are found guilty of animal cruelty or neglect offences. Coupled with the costs of expert veterinary reports, costs orders against offenders often run into the thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars and such costs orders can often outweigh the penalties imposed by courts for the offences themselves.

In addition to significant criminal penalties and substantial costs orders, the court has the power to order the surrender of any animal seized and can impose orders prohibiting offenders from owning or possessing an animal in the future.

Cases of animal cruelty and neglect often contain expert evidence of veterinarians and the law and cases themselves can be quite complex. It is therefore very important that you engage the services of experienced lawyers in the field of animal cruelty and neglect if you are being investigated or have been charged with an offence involving animal cruelty or neglect.

Why Choose Australian Lawyers and Advocates?

If you are facing an investigation or charges involving allegations of animal cruelty and/or neglect, our team of expert defence criminal and traffic lawyers in Sydney can help. We will carefully consider your case and provide expert advice on your options.

Our team of expert criminal and traffic defence lawyers in Sydney have a proven track record of securing successful outcomes for our clients in criminal law matters. Our results speak for themselves.

If you require expert representation in a criminal or traffic law matter, don’t delay. Contact our expert criminal defence lawyers in Sydney today.

The content contained within this guide is expressed as a general guide as to this area of law and is not intended to contain legal advice specific to an individual’s case. If you, or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offence and requires legal advice, do not hesitate to contact Australian Lawyers and Advocates to discuss any criminal law or traffic law matters further.

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