Animal Cruelty


In NSW, the offence of committing an act of cruelty upon, authorising an act of cruelty upon or failing to exercise reasonable care with respect to an animal carries a maximum penalty of 250 penalty units for a corporation, or 50 penalty units and/or six months imprisonment for an individual. A charge under this section can be brought by the Police, or privately prosecuted by bodies such as the RSPCA or Animal Welfare League (AWL).

In NSW, a court can impose any of the following penalties for a charge of animal cruelty.

The Offence of Cruelty to an Animal

The offence of cruelty to animals is set out in section 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979. There are a number of ways in which you can commit an offence under this section.

Subsection (1) states: “A person shall not commit an act of cruelty upon an animal.”

Subsection (2) states: “A person in charge of an animal shall not authorise the commission of an act of cruelty upon the animal.”

Subsection (3) states: “A person in charge of an animal shall not fail at any time: (a) to exercise reasonable care, control or supervision of an animal to prevent the commission of an act of cruelty upon the animal; (b) where pain is being inflicted upon the animal, to take such reasonable steps as are necessary to alleviate the pain, or (c) where it is necessary for the animal to be provided with veterinary treatment, whether or not over a period of time, to provide it with that treatment.”

What Actions Might Constitute Cruelty to an Animal?

  • For the purposes of this section, an animal includes: amphibians, birds, fish, mammals other than humans, or reptiles.
  • The definition of cruelty in the Act is quite detailed and refers to an act of cruelty as any act or omission, where the consequence is that the animal is “unreasonably, unnecessarily or unjustifiably”
    • Beaten, kicked, killed wounded, pinioned, mutilated, maimed, abused, tormented, tortured, terrified or infuriated;
    • Overloaded, overworked, overdriven, overridden or overused;
    • Exposed to excessive heat or cold; or
    • Inflicted with pain.
  • There does not have to be a positive act of cruelty. Neglect or an omission to take action in certain circumstances could also amount to an offence under this section.
  • Some examples of offences arising from this act are:
    • Beating, kicking or actively injuring an animal.
    • Leaving an animal in a vehicle on a hot day, for an extended period of time or in a situation or location in which they would suffer distress or pain.
    • Abandoning an animal;
    • Baiting an animal;
    • Docking tails or cropping ears of a dog, declawing cats or branding;
    • Failing to seek treatment for a pet that is obviously injured, in pain or distressed.
    • Failing to provide adequate food and water for an animal.
    • ‘Puppy farms’ where a high quantity of animals live in squalor and suffering malnourishment.

What the Prosecution Must Prove

To convict you of a charge of cruelty to an animal, the Prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you:

  • Committed an act of cruelty upon an animal; or
  • That you were the person in charge of an animal, and:
    • Authorised the commission of an act of cruelty upon an animal; or
    • Failed to:
      • Exercise reasonable care, control or supervision of the animal to prevent the commission of an act of cruelty;
      • Take reasonable steps, as necessary, to alleviate the pain being inflicted upon the animal or
      • Provide the animal with necessary veterinary treatment when required.

Possible Defences for Cruelty to an Animal

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

This offence is a summary offence and will be heard in the Local Court.

Types of penalties:

Jail: This is the most serious penalty and involves full time detention in a correctional facility. Read more.

Home Detention: As a result of amended legislation this penalty was repealed on 24 September 2018 as a standalone order but may be imposed as a condition of an Intensive Corrections Order (ICO). Home detention is an alternative to full-time imprisonment. In effect the gaol sentence is served at your address rather than in a gaol. If you receive a sentence of home detention you will be strictly supervised and subject to electronic monitoring. Read more.

Intensive Corrections Order (ICO): This option has replaced periodic detention. The court can order you to comply with a number of conditions, such as attending counselling or treatment, not consuming alcohol, complying with a curfew and performing community service. Read more.

Suspended Sentence: As a result of amended legislation this penalty was repealed on 24 September 2018. This is a jail sentence that is suspended upon you entering into a good behaviour bond. Provided the terms of the good behaviour bond are obeyed the jail sentence will not come into effect. A suspended sentence is only available for sentences of imprisonment of up to two years. Read more.

Community Service Order (CSO): As a result of amended legislation this penalty was repealed on 24 September 2018 and replaced with a Community Corrections Order (CCO). This involves either unpaid work in the community at a place specified by probation and parole or attendance at a centre to undertake a course, such as anger management. In order to be eligible for a CSO you have to be assessed by an officer of the probation service as suitable to undertake the order. Read more.

Good Behaviour Bond: As a result of amended legislation this penalty was repealed on 24 September 2018 and replaced with a Community Corrections Order (CCO). This is an order of the court that requires you to be of good behaviour for a specified period of time. The court will impose conditions that you will have to obey during the term of the good behaviour bond. The maximum duration of a good behaviour bond is five years. Read more.

Community Corrections Orders (CCO): A CCO involves the standard conditions that an offender must not commit any offence and that the offender must appear before the court if called on to do so at any time during the term of the Community Corrections Orders (CCO). Additional conditions may be imposed at the discretion of the court, both at the time of sentence and subsequently upon application by a community corrections officer, juvenile justice officer or the offender. Read more.

Fines: When deciding the amount of a fine the magistrate or judge should consider your financial situation and your ability to pay any fine they set. Read more.

Section 10A: A section 10A is a conviction, with no other penalty attached to it. Read more.

Conditional Release Order (CRO): A CRO involves the standard conditions that an offender must not commit any offence and that the offender must appear before the court if called on to do so at any time during the term of the CRO. Read more.

Section 10 avoiding a criminal record. Normally, when you plead guilty to a criminal offence, the court imposes a penalty and records a conviction. If the court records a conviction, you will have a criminal record. However, if we can convince the court not to convict you, there will be no penalty of any type and no criminal record. In all criminal cases, the court has the discretion not to convict you, but to give you a Section 10 dismissal instead. Read more.

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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